Wales’ 2008 legends tell tale of Twickenham comeback

Ten years ago Wales shocked the rugby world by beating England at Twickenham for the first time since 1988 in Warren Gatland’s first match in charge.

Just four months previously Wales were in disarray. They had crashed out of the 2007 World Cup, losing 38-34 to Fiji, which saw coach Gareth Jenkins sacked.

England, meanwhile, were the width of Mark Cueto’s little-toe away from being crowned champions of the world for the second time – and had not lost to the Welsh at home in 20 years.

So with New Zealander head coach Gatland making his Welsh debut at Twickenham, his side were huge underdogs.

Here, Sportsmail speaks to the Welsh heroes about the Kiwi coach’s incredible impact and how they blitzed England 26-19 at Twickenham a decade ago.

Warren Gatland beat England at Twickenham during his first game in charge of Wales

Warren Gatland beat England at Twickenham during his first game in charge of Wales

Warren Gatland beat England at Twickenham during his first game in charge of Wales

THE TEAMS IN 2008 

ENGLAND: Balshaw; Sackey, Tindall, Flood, Strettle; Wilkinson, Gomarsall; Sheridan, Regan, Vickery (c), Shaw, Borthwick, Haskell, Moody, Narraway (N8), Moody.

Replacements: Mears, Stevens, Kay, T Rees, Wigglesworth, Cipriani, Vainikolo.

WALES: Byrne; M Jones, Parker, Henson, S Williams; Hook, Phillips; A Jones, Bennett, D Jones, A W Jones, Gough, J Thomas, M Williams, R. Jones (c).

Replacements: M Rees, Jenkins, Evans, Popham, Cooper, S Jones, Shanklin.  

With Gatland arriving to take over officially only a fortnight before the first match of the Six Nations, the Kiwi had to whip Wales into shape fast…

MARTYN WILLIAMS – 100 caps. Started at openside flanker. We were in total disarray after 2007. It was a difficult time.

ADAM JONES – 95 caps. Started at tighthead prop. Gats simplified everything down. He saw we weren’t the most confident of fellas but what he installed in us was a good work ethic.

TOM SHANKLIN – 70 caps. Came on after 46 minutes. We were not used to training as hard, at all. We had the mindset of looking for someone to take it easy on you – the old wink, fall into tackles – and all of a sudden that was gone. It was competitive, intense and we trained under pressure. We were really fit. Suddenly we had the direction we lacked over the last three years.

Martyn Williams came out of retirement – thanks Martyn…

Tom Shanklin recalls how much tougher Gatland made it, working them harder in training 

Tom Shanklin recalls how much tougher Gatland made it, working them harder in training 

Tom Shanklin recalls how much tougher Gatland made it, working them harder in training 

MW: I thought I would just be watching! Gats rang me and left an answerphone message… I didn’t know him from Adam, but I knew why he was ringing. I arranged to meet him and he was straight to the point: ‘Listen, mate, I think you’ve got a lot to offer. You’ll train harder than you have ever done before but I guarantee we’ll be successful.’ I thought: ‘Christ, that’s refreshing!’

When I saw the team he put together, of Rob Howley, Shaun Edwards, Neil Jenkins and Robin McBryde it was an easy decision. I was only worried about the stick I would get off the other players.

I told my wife, Sam, I was going back to play – she just shrugged her shoulders and said: ‘I knew you would!’ I am forever grateful for him pulling me out of retirement!

I was never going to ask to come back, and it is always difficult to know when to call it a day. We had such a talented squad but had under-performed in the whole of 2007. I just had a nagging feeling that if I walked away for good I would be absolutely devastated if they were successful without me.

Martyn Williams was called out of retirement and was impressed by the coaching team

Martyn Williams was called out of retirement and was impressed by the coaching team

Martyn Williams was called out of retirement and was impressed by the coaching team

AJ: I remember Gats asking Gavin Henson how long he wanted to train. ‘Half an hour?’ he said. ‘Right, half hour – but it’ll be a balls-out half hour,’ he replied.

It is funny hearing the English boys now saying they train harder than match intensity – it is something Gats installed 10 years ago!

MW: Gatland is best at making a player feel a million dollars. After a week in there you felt this was the start of something special.

In the press that week Gatland had said: ‘We are going to Twickenham on a giant-killing mission, like a First Division team going to Manchester United in a cup tie.’ The mind-games had begun…

TS: He knew that our past record had not been great – we had not won at Twickenham since 1988. Every coach wants to play the underdog. And don’t forget we had just been kicked out the World Cup by Fiji in the Pool Stages. So there was no expectation.

MIKE PHILLIPS – 94 caps. Started at scrum-half. England were getting a lot of hype as they always do. Warren set the tone in the week. They got Scott Gibbs – the hero of 1999 – in to give us a team talk. I don’t know if deep down the coaches thought we were going to win.

Mike Phillips, who started at No 9, said Gatland set the tone in the week leading up to the game

Mike Phillips, who started at No 9, said Gatland set the tone in the week leading up to the game

Mike Phillips, who started at No 9, said Gatland set the tone in the week leading up to the game

Scott Gibbs, Wales' hero at Wembley in 1999, was asked to give the squad a pep talk

Scott Gibbs, Wales' hero at Wembley in 1999, was asked to give the squad a pep talk

Scott Gibbs, Wales’ hero at Wembley in 1999, was asked to give the squad a pep talk

MW: England had just been to the World Cup final and none of our players had beaten them at Twickenham before. Gatland built us up and said: ‘You’re going to be fitter than England. They won’t have trained as hard as we have.’

AJ: If you can’t get up for playing England, with all the history that goes with it, there is something hugely wrong. Gats was a great man-manager.

Gatland picked 13 Ospreys in his first starting XV – a record from one region – and with former Wasps colleague Shaun Edwards his new defence coach they went about creating an unstoppable blitz defence…

AJ: Us at the Ospreys were going pretty well at the time. Mark Jones of the Scarlets and Martyn – from the Cardiff Blues – were the only non-Ospreys. It made sense, we were the best region at the time – and the game-plan was quite simple. Gats didn’t reinvent the wheel.

Alun Wyn Jones and Adam Jones were two of the 13 Ospreys Gatland selected in his XV

Alun Wyn Jones and Adam Jones were two of the 13 Ospreys Gatland selected in his XV

Alun Wyn Jones and Adam Jones were two of the 13 Ospreys Gatland selected in his XV

MW: It was a bold move – but he has never been there to please people. He is there to do a job.

Gats did not know many of the players so went with familiarity. I do remind people that Gethin Jenkins and Tom Shanklin, two Blues players, had to come to save the day!

TS: I wasn’t picked to start. He had a word with me and said: ‘We’re picking this team because I want to implement a blitz defence – that is why I have brought Shaun Edwards in as defence coach.’

The Ospreys were the only ones that had aggressive line-speed at that time. They were comfortable doing it. Previously we just drifted across the field in defence and tried to shove teams into touch.

I had to work harder than others on it – it was like playing rugby league, running up and back. Sometimes I felt I was exerting energy I didn’t need to but what it did was get inside the opposition’s vision.

It was loud too – you can talk teams out of it. We would shout names, which can be quite intimidating. It was ‘I’ve got Balshaw’, ‘I’ve got Tindall’, ‘I’ve got Jonny’. Attacking players can go into their shell – it is not nice to hear your name shouted, it becomes a bit personal.

The ploy was to be in their faces before they could make a decision.

Shanklin (right), then of the Cardiff Blues, was not picked to start the Twickenham match

Shanklin (right), then of the Cardiff Blues, was not picked to start the Twickenham match

Shanklin (right), then of the Cardiff Blues, was not picked to start the Twickenham match

MW: We were like the Newcastle football team of the 1990s before that – you score three, we’ll score four. They brought a really hard edge to our defence which we hadn’t had for a long time. The coaches were blunt, ruthless and brought a clarity we desperately needed. Shaun Edwards’ attention to detail was phenomenal.

MP: Shaun had put us all in our place. He was a different character, very focussed, and we didn’t really know what sort of sense of humour he had.

TS: I was obviously quite disappointed not to be playing but I was head of music and entertainment, so for our team run in London I decided to put on The Best of M People on from the front of the bus!

I was wincing, waiting for a clip over the head! I walked tentatively to the back of the bus and Edwards – who used to go out with the lead singer Heather Small – shouted something along the lines of ‘she’s got a good voice but you don’t have to listen to her!’ and we all cheered. That broke the ice a little bit.

The squad couldn't read new defence coach Shaun Edwards, but the ice was soon broken

The squad couldn't read new defence coach Shaun Edwards, but the ice was soon broken

The squad couldn’t read new defence coach Shaun Edwards, but the ice was soon broken

AJ: To be fair to Shaun he took it in good spirits!

MP: On the day of the game Shaun said a few words before we went out for the team photo. It was one of the most emotional speeches I ever had. We were so pumped up and ready to go.

At half-time it was the same old story for Wales. They trailed 16-6, after Toby Flood had scored latching onto a knock-down from Lesley Vainikolo, and Jonny Wilkinson had kicked the rest…

MW: We were confident of winning but were totally blown away in the first half.

AJ: It would have been a different story if Huw Bennett had not held Paul Sackey up over the line.

MW: It would have been game over.

Had Paul Sackey have gone over, but luckily for Wales Huw Bennett held him up over the line

Had Paul Sackey have gone over, but luckily for Wales Huw Bennett held him up over the line

Had Paul Sackey have gone over, but luckily for Wales Huw Bennett held him up over the line

Gatland and Edwards went into the dressing room at half time and shouted at the players

Gatland and Edwards went into the dressing room at half time and shouted at the players

Gatland and Edwards went into the dressing room at half time and shouted at the players

TS: Usually it was calm at half-time with Wales but Edwards and Gatland came in and gave us a massive shouting at. That took us by surprise, but it got us in that zone. It was not negative – they built confidence.

‘We’re only 10 points behind. We have done nothing with the ball. Trust yourselves. You have got to believe,’ they said. It was nice to hear.

MP: We’d watched Wales v England all our life and Wales always got absolutely battered. In the first half I thought, ‘Oh no, I’m just going to be like all those other Welsh guys who have played at Twickenham’. It looked like we were going to be on the end of an absolute hiding but we just flicked a switch and believed in ourselves.

MW: There was no pandering about – if you didn’t like it, tough.

Another Wilkinson penalty took England into a 19-6 lead – but then the red blitzkrieg began. Soon James Hook hit two penalties and it was back on…

TS: I am not saying I set up Lee Byrne’s try…but! Jonny Wilkinson threw a long ball over the top to Danny Cipriani for his first touch in international rugby, I managed to tackle him because the ball went over his head – the result is that we got a five-metre scrum and ended up scoring. Three cheers for Tom, I say!

MW: A bit of magic from Hooky and Lee Byrne scored on the outside.

James Hook put Lee Byrne into space after the hour-mark and set up Wales' first try

James Hook put Lee Byrne into space after the hour-mark and set up Wales' first try

James Hook put Lee Byrne into space after the hour-mark and set up Wales’ first try

Byrne scored the try which would set the wheels in motion to beat the old enemy

Byrne scored the try which would set the wheels in motion to beat the old enemy

Byrne scored the try which would set the wheels in motion to beat the old enemy

Hook’s wide conversion brought the scores level – but as Hymns & Arias started to ring round Twickenham Wales come again…

MW: It was a crazy couple of minutes.

MP: I remember looking at their pack and they all had their heads down, looking uninterested. There was no fire there – we thought: ‘We’ve got these.’

TS: I started to hear the Welsh fans. The English had gone quiet – they had nothing to cheer about and only have one song anyway! That inspired us. It helped with the momentum – we started to believe, and were suddenly thinking a lot sharper, because we were right back in the game and did not want to make a mistake. Concentration levels went through the roof.

Balshaw just took too long trying to launch and up-and-under, Mike Phillips was all over him and charged him down.

MW: I still think it was one of the great tries by an individual. He makes the long kick from our own half, then charges the Balshaw kick down at the other end, we get the ball to him and then he scores in the corner. He doesn’t get the plaudits he deserves for that try. In the 70th minute he has covered a hell of a lot of ground.

AJ: Phillsy was the best scrum-half in the world at the time.

MP: Scoring was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had.

TS: That was just sheer pressure. When you have your tails up like that everything is easier. You don’t feel tired – we could have gone on longer in fact. We knew our line-speed could kill them off.

Phillips then charged down Iain Balshaw's kick before finishing the move off in the corner

Phillips then charged down Iain Balshaw's kick before finishing the move off in the corner

Phillips then charged down Iain Balshaw’s kick before finishing the move off in the corner

Ten minutes later referee Craig Joubert’s final whistle tells Wales they have done it, winning 26-19…

MW: I remember seeing Gatland and Shaun – they were surprised as anyone walking round the field at the end. It was a surreal feeling as I had expected to be watching it in the pub a few weeks earlier.

TS: I was closest to tunnel just looking round for someone to celebrate with. I realised it was the first time I had won at this stadium, which was special.

AJ: It was a shock to the rugby world. A few months before we were the laughing stock of the world, and there we’ve beaten the World Cup finalists in their back yard.

But there was little time to paint the town red, with Scotland next up.

MW: Everyone assumes we had an unbelievable night out after that, but we were straight back to Cardiff on the bus. The boys ended up just watching the film Predator!

TS: We had a few beers – Gatland was always fine with that – what he didn’t want was us going out and letting ourselves down in town. We were not nailing jagerbombs or anything like that!

Ten minutes after Phillips' try the referee blew the final whistle and Wales were victorious

Ten minutes after Phillips' try the referee blew the final whistle and Wales were victorious

Ten minutes after Phillips’ try the referee blew the final whistle and Wales were victorious

Phillips celebrates after the whistle as Wales win at Twickenham for the first time in 20 years

Phillips celebrates after the whistle as Wales win at Twickenham for the first time in 20 years

Phillips celebrates after the whistle as Wales win at Twickenham for the first time in 20 years

MP: We were told we weren’t allowed out into Cardiff. Back then, the players had personalities and enjoyed sharing a beer. We were under lock and key and the boys were well behaved.

MW: I can remember how harsh the debrief was. Whereas may in the past we would be patting each other on the back but Shaun ripped players to shreds!

Gatland’s boys were not done there – by March they had secured a Grand Slam…

AJ: It obviously was not a flash in the pan as we ended up winning the tournament. In the three Slams I have won once you get that first win there is that snowball effect.

TS: We were all surprised we achieved what we did, as we had come from nothing really. We had the players and the quality but we never had a style of play that suited us. We just needed that direction which we got from Gatland.

MW: We only conceded two tries all tournament – which is still a record. That was the hard edge Gatland brought to us. It was an amazing turnaround.  

Wales conceded just two tries all tournament and went on to win the Grand Slam

Wales conceded just two tries all tournament and went on to win the Grand Slam

Wales conceded just two tries all tournament and went on to win the Grand Slam

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