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It was hunting time for the Test Match Animals

Occasionally in sport there are matches or events that you just know will be special, you can feel the atmosphere in the city and building as you move towards the stadium, it can even seem at times as though you can feel it coming through your television screen at home. Wales v England on Saturday was one of those days.

The anthems were astounding, quite how the Millennium Stadium roof stayed on its hinges I will never know, and from the outset it was clear that this was going to be more than just any old Six Nations decider.

The sheer intensity and physicality of the game was just immense, and let me be quite clear – England did not play badly, they fronted up and gave everything, but man for man Wales were just on a different planet, a different galaxy it seemed.

You see that sort of level of physicality for 20 minutes or so sometimes but Wales kept it up for an hour before England just had nothing left to give and the Welsh could then accelerate the scoreboard. It was brutal. Shaun Edwards’ face at the end said it all; this was a special, special performance.

I said before the game that this match was all about pressure and who could perform under it, from a Lions perspective that was key, it was about finding out which players on that field were that elusive species, ‘the Test Match Animal’, it turns out that Wales must have a breeding ground for them.

Justin Tipuric was rightly awarded the man of the match award, while Leigh Halfpenny, Alex Cuthbert, Richard Hibbard and Gethin Jenkins all received particularly rave reviews, again rightly so. You could go through the whole Welsh team, they were all brilliant but all of those players listed made significant and telling contributions to the game.

For me though there was a core group of players that stood out as Test match animals, that does not mean they were the best or they made the most telling contributions (though they were all excellent) it just means that they fronted up in a way that was inspirational for those around them and demoralising for those opposite, it means that regardless of form or fitness or anything else, they were going to ensure that Wales won that game not just by their ability but through sheer strength of will if necessary.

Those players were Jamie Roberts, Mike Phillips, Sam Warbuton, Alun Wyn Jones and Adam Jones.

Roberts, Phillips and Warburton have not been in great nick, they would tell you that themselves, granted Phillips & Warburton have been on the up but not to yesterday’s level, all three put in the type of performance that shows you exactly why people want to write about and talk about them, they were immense.

Roberts particularly was just a rock for his team, he seemed to seek Tuilagi out like a man possessed, never before will Tuilagi have been rocked back behind the gainline so many times in one game.

Alun Wyn Jones missed the start of the tournament through injury, by all accounts he should have missed the whole tournament and was by no means properly fit for action, that he was there fighting and scrapping for his country was an inspiration, his attitude and desire were palpable, even at home, every bit the Test Match animal.

As for Adam Jones, he was superb, a bit off colour at the start of the tournament and on the mend from injury there were a few question marks but his form in the last few rounds has been unbelievable. There was talk ahead of the game of Dan Cole being a serious challenger for the tighthead shirt in Australia, rightly so as he is an excellent player, but it was talk that Adam Jones would have wanted to make a statement about.

What a statement he made. Yes, the scrum is a collective effort and the whole front row, tight five even, must be and have been praised, but Adam Jones was at a level beyond that. He utterly destroyed Joe Marler, forcing England to take him off the field just four minutes into the second half. It was a brutal performance, the performance of a Test match animal, using every ounce of his skill, experience and talent and then topping it off with just his sheer will.

We have been treated to some brilliant performances in recent times, Ireland’s first half against Wales, England’s sensational win against the All Blacks in the Autumn, Argentina and Samoa’s autumn performances against Wales, for me though that Welsh performance on Saturday was better than anything I have seen on these shores, certainly since England’s ’03 era.

It reads and sounds like hyperbole, yet I am struggling to think of anything that can make me see otherwise.

Either way it bodes well for the Lions, buoyant Welsh players, identifiable Test Match animals, and a group of English players who now have the experience of playing under that kind of pressure, with that kind of intensity. It can only be good.

By Angus Savage

I will be selecting Fifteen Rugby’s provisional Lions squad later this week, we’ll be selecting 37 players, I’d love to read your thoughts below as to who you would like to see in or out of the squad.

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