Wales coach Warren Gatland has urged his players to seize the “dream” opportunity of clinching a Grand Slam at home to Ireland in Cardiff next Saturday.
Gatland himself stands to secure a place in history in his final Six Nations match as Wales coach after his side showed what he hailed as “great character” for overcoming a week of political turmoil in Welsh rugby to beat a spirited Scotland team 18-11 at Murrayfield.
The New Zealander will become the first coach to achieve a hat-trick of Grand Slams if his squad – most of whom were affected by the on-off proposed merger between the Ospreys and the Scarlets – can extend their record winning run to 14 matches with a victory against the reigning champions at the Principality Stadium.
“It’s a dream that we can fulfil and do something pretty special as a group of players,” said Gatland, whose 12-year tenure will come to an end after the World Cup in Japan.
“You break records and do things that no one can ever take away from you. When you get those opportunities, you’ve got to grasp them with both hands.
AFP / ANDY BUCHANAN Wales coach Warren Gatland said his team showed “great character” for overcoming a spirited Scotland 18-11 at Murrayfield
“You’ve got to go out there and not have any regrets and I have no doubt that this group of players will not have any regrets next week.”
Wales’ last defeat dates back to 24 February last year, when they were beaten 37-27 by an Ireland side that went on to complete a Grand Slam.
“England will think they’ve still got a chance of winning. Ireland will think the same as well,” Gatland said.
“We want to win this championship and the only way we can do that now is by getting the Grand Slam. If we do that, I promise you there will be some pretty serious celebrations afterwards,” he added.
The former Ireland coach praised his players for the resilience they showed at the end of their difficult week and for a superb second-half defensive effort helping them to protect most of the advantage they gained through first-half tries from winger Josh Adams and centre Jonathan Davies.
“I’ll take my hat off to the players in how they’ve dug deep,” said Gatland.
AFP / ANDY BUCHANAN Scotland lost try-scorer Darcy Graham to an injury that may keep him out of their final match away to England
Scotland had to show faith in their squad after a succession of injuries forced them to use replacement hooker Fraser Brown as a temporary flanker and scrum-half Ali Price as an emergency winger.
“I’m proud of the players but frustrated that we didn’t win,” said coach Gregor Townsend, who lost try-scorer Darcy Graham, fellow winger Tommy Seymour and full-back Blair Kinghorn to injuries that may keep them out of Scotland’s final match away to England.
Scotland, who have not won at Twickenham for 36 years, have suffered three successive Six Nations defeats for the first time since 2015.
“We showed today against the number three team in the world that if we can build on that performance, we can be a match for any team in the world,” said Townsend.
“We know how England are at home, what a strong team they are, and we know our record there. But records are there to be broken.”