New Wales coach Warren Gatland showered glowing praise on his charges for their dramatic comeback against England.
It was Wales’ first win at Twickenham since 1988, but trailing 16-6 at half-time and 19-6 with 22 minutes to go, England looked to be getting their campaign off to the perfect start.
“The message to the players at the end of the first half was just to hang in there and show a bit of character,” Gatland said. “The pleasing thing was that we played smart and the longer the game went on, the stronger we got, which was very surprising.”
Gatland, however, was reluctant to make early predictions about how Wales would fare in the Six Nations. “It doesn’t happen overnight, physically or technically but we showed a few things in the second half,” he said.
“The potential and raw material for this team is there and this was certainly a monkey off the guys’ back and should give us back a bit of self-belief.
“Rugby is not just about the tactics but what’s in the head and heart. These guys showed a lot of guts, they dug deep and had to really earn everything in the second half. They were under pressure but came out and never gave in.”
Wales captain Ryan Jones was optimistic that they may have turned the corner after a dismal 2007.
“I think we matured as a group in the second half and to do something like that in an arena like this shows we are on the verge of something very good.”
Ashton refused to blame second half injuries to Lewis Moody and Mike Tindall for their collapse, saying they still had enough experienced players on the park to see off the Wales challenge.
“I can’t explain it; it’s something we need to talk about but the players are very well aware of what happened,” he said. “Wales did exceptionally well to come back but I’m not convinced they had to work desperately hard to score those two tries.
“I was disappointed that we were only 19-6 up. The halftime message was more of the same so we don’t let Wales back into the game.
“I actually think in the first half England played as well as they had for some years from an attacking point of view but obviously didn’t maintain that in the second half and we paid the price for it.
“One of our key messages before the game was not to feed them (the Welsh backs) but we were pretty good at that in the second half when we took all our food out of the cupboard.”