He may not have begun the 2012 Guinness Six Nations in Wales’ side, but by the end of it, Dan Lydiate was the first name on their team sheet, leading to him being named Player of the Championship.
Lydiate’s work-rate at the breakdown and in making tackle after tackle from blindside flanker proved crucial in the Welsh winning a third Grand Slam in eight years.
Warren Gatland’s side went into the Championship with plenty of confidence, following a successful 2011 World Cup, where a young team had reached the semi-finals and were narrowly defeated by France.
A settled back row of Ryan Jones, captain Sam Warburton and Taulupe Faletau had helped bring about an upturn in fortunes and Lydiate was about to show the Welsh’s strength in depth.
BROUGHT IN FROM THE COLD
Lydiate wasn’t even in the matchday squad for Wales’ opening match; a thrilling contest against Ireland in Dublin that was settled by a Leigh Halfpenny’s late penalty, as Gatland’s side won 23-21.
But a reshuffle ahead of the home fixture against Scotland, with Warburton dropping out injured and Jones being moved into the second row, led to Lydiate coming into a new-look back row, along with debutant Aaron Shingler.
And what an introduction it was, as Lydiate was named Player of the Match in helping Wales to a 27-13 victory that made it two from two.
From 3-3 at half-time, three tries in the first 15 minutes of the second half for the hosts effectively settled the contest, with Alex Cuthbert breaking the deadlock before Halfpenny ran in a double.
KEY MAN IN GRAND SLAM CHARGE
Not surprisingly after that performance, Lydiate kept his place in the side, despite the return to fitness of Warburton, for their clash with England at Twickenham – as Shingler dropped out.
Lydiate’s defence was again at his best as the English, improved from their disappointing World Cup, threw everything at the visitors.
In fact, defences as a whole were on top as Owen Farrell and Halfpenny kicked four penalties apiece to leave the score tied at 12-12 and there was seemingly no way of splitting the two sides.
That was before replacement centre Scott Williams stripped Courtney Lawes of the ball on halfway, kicked ahead and beat Tom Croft to score the game’s only try five minutes from the end.
The 19-12 triumph secured the Triple Crown for Wales, the first time they had completed one at the home of their old enemy.
SWEEPING TO GLORY ON HOME TURF
It was back to Cardiff in Round 4 for the visit of Italy and, although the game wasn’t a great spectacle, it proved to be no problem for the Welsh who ran out 24-3 winners thanks to tries from Cuthbert and Jamie Roberts.
Another injury to Warburton meant Lydiate had Justin Tipuric alongside him that day, but the skipper was fit again to return to face France, the last remaining obstacle between Wales and the Grand Slam.
Ultimately, it wasn’t too high a hurdle as Wales hung on for a 16-9 win in front of an ecstatic crowd at the Millennium Stadium.
Cuthbert scored the only try of the game after 20 minutes, to add to three Halfpenny penalties, with Wales’ defence once again proving miserly – they only conceded three tries in their five games.
With all the changes going on around him in the back row, Lydiate ended up being a mainstay, with his importance over four matches being shown by him being named Player of the Championship.
He finished ahead of 11 other players, including teammates Cuthbert, Mike Phillips and Warburton, with the likes of France’s Yoann Maestri, Ireland’s Johnny Sexton and Italy’s Sergio Parisse also having strong campaigns.