French flair has Wales overawed

rugby union: Champions' limitations exposed
Click to follow
France 21 Wales 9

Pierre Berbizier wanted to make it perfectly clear that there had been two French teams out there; the one that raised a gloomy prognosis among old Welsh heroes at half-time - "we could be looking at a 40-points deficit," one of them ventured -didn't putin an appearance for 20 minutes. "There will be no opportunity to defeat England at Twickenham unless we play better than this," the French coach concluded.

If the perfectionist in Berbizier took a dim view of the spell when France barely encroached upon Welsh territory, inherent invention was not lost on his counterpart, Alan Davies. In the main, it had been Welsh grit against French flair. And when Philippe Saint-Andre applied thrilling pace on the half hour to score France's second try, speculation was removed from the contest.

Davies is not a man to flinch from the truth. Honesty distinguishes him. An hour after the game, in the bowels of the Parc de Princes, he stated it clearly. In better conditions - why France insisted on a leather ball that became as difficult to handle as a bar of carbolic is a mystery - Welsh grief might have been considerable.

Playing with the gutsy commitment that brought them the Five Nations' Championship last season, shouldering the burden of history -only one victory in Paris since 1975 - and serious injuries, Wales raised optimism in their supporters when Neil Jenkins landed a penalty after three minutes.

With the driving rain at their backs Wales set about frustrating France with a kicking game but they seldom promised to achieve more than make life difficult for a technically superior and more imaginative force.

Those who hold that luck evens itself out might have been inclined to think again when Ricky Evans went down injured with what proved to be a double leg fracture that is unlikely to heal in time for the World Cup. Is it the modern emphasis on mobility, players staying on their feet longer, that has brought about the crippling of so many Welsh legs? Certainly, Davies would be grateful for an explanation.

However, it will take more than the return of Ieuan Evans, Emyr Lewis and Nigel Davies to encourage the notion that Wales can make an impact in South Africa next summer.

Recent events have given Welsh rugby a facade of knowingness but there is a limit to expectations. In Paris it came down to preventing humiliation. Respectability in defeat was a bonus. "Once they decided to let the ball go, France gave us too many problems," Neil Jenkins said. "They killed us off in that period before before half-time."

Here was the essence of France's victory and a clue to the approach of British sport generally. "You are made aware of it all the time," said the former Liverpool and Welsh internationalist, John Toshack, at present unemployed, who flew up from Spain. "What I saw today didn't persuade me to think seriously about coming home," he said. "There is little to thrill the heart. It's all efficiency and grind. No room for romance. Today was similar to watching Manchester United outclassed by Barcelona."

Actually, it demanded no gift of sight to know that France were instinctively operating on a different plane. If dissatisfied, Berbizier may be close to establishing the consistency of style that could make the World Cup a distinct possibility. What he did not have to say is that they have a terrific shot. He preferred to concentrate on Twickenham. "Next week we have a meeting," he said. "I know what I want, but there has to be agreement with the selectors."

It was not that one-sided at the Parc de Princes, but France's victory, and the manner of it was nevertheless impressive. There is a depth to their talent - Sella, Accoceberry, Sadourny, N'Tamack, Gonzales- but it is the attitude that registers. Take aw ay the principles implanted by Davies and pride, where do Wales stand by comparison? What emotions are uppermost now as Wales labour in arenas that once rang with their triumphs? Eagerness? Apprehension? Confidence? Anxiety? "Thoughtful" is the adjectivethat occurred first to describe Alan Davies's manner.

France: Tries: N'Tamack, Saint-Andre. Conversion: Lacroix. Penalties: Lacroix, 3. Wales: Penalties: N Jenkins, 3.

France: J-L Sadourny (Colomiers); E N'Tamack (Toulouse), P Sella (Agen),T Lacroix (Dax), P Saint-Andre (Montferrand, capt); C Deylaud (Toulouse), G Accoceberry (Begles-Bordeaux); L Benezech (Racing), J-M Gonzales (Bayonne), C Califano (Toulouse), O Merle(Montferrand), O Roumat (Dax), A Benazzi (Agen), P Benetton (Agen), L Cabannes (Racing).

Wales: A Clement (Swansea); S Hill (Cardiff), M Hall (Cardiff), M Taylor (Pontypool),N Walker (Cardiff); N Jenkins (Pontypridd), R Jones (Swansea); R Evans (Llanelli), G Jenkins (Swansea), J Davies (Neath), D Jones (Cardiff), G Llewellyn (Neath, capt), SDavies (Swansea), P Davies (Llanelli), R Collins (Pontypridd). Replacements: N Griffiths (Cardiff) for Evans, 9; M Back (Bridgend) for Hill, 32.

WHERE THE MATCH WAS WON AND LOST POSSESSION Ball Won Possession Territory set loose 1st 2nd 1st 2nd France 41 26 24 24 21 35

Wales 37 26 15 17 20 7

SCRUMS Award Won Ag head Percent France 12 12 0 46

Wales 17 14 0 54

LINE-OUTS Award Won OT Per cent France 17 14 11 54

Wales 16 12 8 46

PENALTIES Award Tap Punt Percent France 13 2 6 54

Wales 11 2 5 46

HALF-BACKS Rec Run Kick Pass Guy Accoceberry 36 0 0 36

Robert Jones 34 0 7 27

Christophe Deylaud 30 0 9 18

Neil Jenkins 25 3 7 12

Source: Unisys Information Services For Sport Referee: J Pearson (England).