Rugby Union / Five Nations' Championship: Ruck and roll with Quinnell to the fore

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Wales . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .24

France. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .15

THE last time Wales scored 24 points at Cardiff they were defeated by Canada in a warm-up to the Five Nations' Championship. Now only England stand between the Welsh and their first Grand Slam since 1978 following an exhilarating victory over France that gave authority to the renaissance in the Principality.

One of the loudest responses on an afternoon that saw the Princess of Wales conducting herself in the committee box like a cheerleader, was reserved for the announcement from Twickenham on England's demise. Alan Davies and his team now have a month to prepare for the final march on London. He can hardly wait.

Davies, the former coach of Nottingham and England B, was by- passed by the Rugby Football Union in ruthless fashion and there were many in Wales who feared for his future after the debacle against Canada. 'Absolutely phenomenal,' was how Davies described his feelings on Saturday evening. 'Life is fickle. Bob (Norster) and I have been through some tough times.'

Wales, who also have the opportunity of winning the Triple Crown against England on 19 March, maintain that they will be a better side by then. 'There is more in our armoury,' Davies said. 'We'll have a better mix.' As for France, the prop Louis Armary will play no further part in the championship. He has a knee injury. Injuries to the captain, Ieuan Evans, and Nigel Davies forced Wales to reorganise their threequarter line in midweek and, all being well, all Davies has to do is bring those two back in place of Simon Hill and Anthony Clement.

Wales and France scored two tries each (they have six apiece out of a total of 14 in the championship) and one of the crucial differences was that Neil Jenkins kicked four penalties out of five and Thierry Lacroix kicked one out of six.

On the face of it, France, during a second half of mounting pressure which made the match all the more absorbing, could have won had Lacroix been on song, but Wales deserved to savour their first win over the French in 12 years. There were significant differences aside from the goal-kicking, notably the astonishing display of Scott Quinnell at No 8 and the furious rucking of the pack.

'For young players like Scott to walk on to a rugby field and give a massive performance against opposition like that is just brilliant,' Davies said. Quite so. The 21-year-old Quinnell, who won his first cap against Canada, had a match that was made in heaven. Not even his father Derek, a Welsh selector and former Lion, injected adrenalin into an Arms Park crowd in the way that Scott did on Saturday.

'His father was very pleased,' Norster said with a smile. Asked to describe his try, Scott said: 'There was a tap down in a line-out and I just put my head down and ran. It hasn't sunk in.' Obviously not. Talk about an abject example of understatement. 'I just splashed some paint on the ceiling,' Michelangelo might have said. The score was 3-3 when Quinnell erupted from that line-out near half-way and, cleverly positioning the ball, handed off Fabien Galthie, sold a dummy and beat Philippe Saint-Andre and Alain Penaud before planting the ball over the line with his outstretched right hand. Gerald Davies, sitting next to me, said: 'I'd love to see that again.' He will.

It was one of the finest individual tries scored by a forward and its final execution, in terms of skill and agility, was reminiscent of Alun Pask, another great back-row footballer. In his progression through schools and youth, etc., Quinnell built a reputation as a try-scorer (four in one match against England) but nobody, least of all France, was prepared for this.

Nor was it just the try that stunned France. Quinnell played a part in virtually every important point of the game. He kept stunning France with his speed off the mark from scrum and line-out and, with their huge back row continually caught off guard, it was left to Penaud to try and halt Quinnell. On such impetus, Wales built a 17-3 lead early in the second half.

Jenkins, 84 points from his last five appearances for Wales, kept building his sandcastles from a bucket marked 'ice' before the juggernaut French pack got rolling and threatened to wash away Wales's lead. Within minutes the score was 17-15. 'We were on the verge of cracking,' Gareth Llewellyn admitted. Not Quinnell. Finally, he turned a French attack into hopeless retreat by sending the sprinter Nigel Walker clear over the last hurdle.

As Llewellyn, who assumed the captaincy, pointed out, France were subdued for long periods by the fury of Wales's rucking. 'Our intention was to stop France from mauling,' he said. To avoid a colour clash, Wales changed their socks from red to green, all the better for Mr McLachlan to admire their footwork. Wales socked it to them with such force (Frenchmen were frequently laid low in the process) that it is a matter of debate as to whether any referee other than a New Zealander would not, at least occasionally, have penalised them for literally going over the top.

Pierre Berbizier, France's coach, had no complaints on that score. It was other matters that concerned him. 'We gave too much ball away. That's what I call wastage.' Olivier Roumat was more generous. 'There was a certain justice about the result,' the French captain said. Berbizier referred to the 'magic of the championship'. Behind him was a poster of a fire-breathing dragon with the caption: 'Capture the magic.' It looked silly after Canada. Spot on after France.

Wales: Tries Quinnell, Walker; Conversion N Jenkins; Penalties N Jenkins 4. France: Tries Roumat, Sella; Conversion Lacroix; Penalty Lacroix.

WALES: M Rayer; S Hill, M Hall (all Cardiff), A Clement (Swansea), N Walker (Cardiff); N Jenkins (Pontypridd), R Moon; R Evans (Llanelli), G Jenkins (Swansea), J Davies (Neath), P Davies (Llanelli), G O Llewellyn (Neath, capt), E Lewis, S Quinnell, M Perego (all Llanelli).

FRANCE: J-L Sadourny (Colomiers); E N'tamack (Toulouse), P Sella (Agen), T Lacroix (Dax), P Saint- Andre (Montferrand); A Penaud (Brive), F Galthie (Colomiers); L Armary (Lourdes), J-M Gonzales (Bayonne), P Gallart (Beziers), O Merle (Grenoble), O Roumat (Dax, capt), P Benetton (Agen), M Cecillon (Bourgoin), A Benazzi (Agen).

Referee: L McLachlan (New Zealand).

(Statistics omitted)

Comments