Harris hat-trick halts France

Rugby League: France 14 Wales 34
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Wales made a successful start to the defence of their European Championship here last night, continuing their recent tradition of finding the necessary heroes, both likely and unlikely, when they need them.

The obvious star was Iestyn Harris, taking over Jonathan Davies' mantle as both stand-off and goal-kicker with all the aplomb now expected of this immensely talented 19-year-old.

Harris scored three brilliant tries, using his magical side-step to maximum effect, and also landed five goals, so could fairly claim to have been the difference between the two sides.

Less predictable was the impact made by his half-back partner, Ian Watson. Only the third-choice scrum-half at Salford, Watson, also 19, was called into the Welsh side on the eve of the match after Hull's Gareth Stephens injured an ankle in training. The maturity with which he took his chance suggests a healthy future at both club and international level.

After Arnaud Cervello had given France the lead, getting to a Patrick Entat kick that Gerald Cordle had failed to kill, Watson was involved in all three first-half tries that put Wales in command. He gave the ball to Harris for the first of his hat-trick, then it was his beautifully timed short pass to Jason Critchley that gave Paul Atcheson the chance to atone for an earlier squandered opportunity by scoring the second.

Despite the loss of their captain, David Young, with damaged ankle ligaments, Wales were getting their customary solid platform from a pack in which Mark Jones stood out.

Watson's shimmy through the French defence gave his Salford team-mate and Young's replacement, Richard Webster, a try before half time, even if it was quickly cancelled out by Wigan's Gael Tallec.

The tries that put the game beyond France's reach were pure Harris. His sleight of hand and foot left the French bemused and immobile for his second touchdown, and his hat-trick effort had something of the flavour of an exhibition about it. There was no way forward when he took the ball 10 yards out, so he went backwards on an arking run which eventually exploded into another jinking progress to the try-line.

Wales rounded off a convincing victory when Atcheson's pass sent in Gareth Davies, with Harris adding his fifth goal for a personal total of 22 points. Cervello grabbed his second at the death, but Wales had done enough to show that they will not give up their title without a fierce fight.

FRANCE (all Paris St-Germain unless stated): Banquet; Bomati, Vergniol, Garcia (Sheffield), Cervello; Devecchi, Entat; Boudebza (St Esteve), Torreilles, Teixido, Tallec (Wigan), Cabestany, Jampy. Substitutes used: Pastre-Courtine, Bisson (Villeneuve), Lucchese, Cambres.

WALES: Atcheson (Oldham); Cordle (South Wales), Davies (Warrington), Critchley (Keighley), Sullivan (St Helens); Harris (Warrington), Watson (Salford); Young (Salford), Cunningham (St Helens), Jones (Warrington), Moriarty (South Wales), Phillips (Workington), Perrett (Halifax). Substitutes used: Hall (Wigan), Morley (St Helens), Webster (Salford), Lee (Warrington).

Referee: R Smith (Castleford).