Rugby Union: French play openly into Welsh trap

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The Independent Online
TALK ABOUT the Super 12; you won't see a better game anywhere than we had at the Stade de France yesterday. And the fact that Wales won, and did so deservedly, will go into the history books as one of the nation's greatest achievements and it was more so because it was unexpected. Certainly, the French didn't expect it and when the shock is over and they analyse why they lost they will realise that they helped their own downfall by being dragged into an open game.

Wales's only chance was in a free-for-all well away from the tight play where they would have had no chance against the forward power of the French. Graham Henry said that the Welsh approach might fare better against France because they were not likely to be as destructive as Scotland and Ireland, and so it proved. Indeed, you might say that France's willingness to mix it in the open was their undoing, because that is where the Welsh proved themselves.

They would have enjoyed greater success against the Scots and the Irish had they been able to show the control in the loose that they did yesterday. They have learned the hard way that you cannot control matches when you give the ball away. Mistakes and indiscipline cost them dear in those two games, but credit Wales with tightening up in those departments and producing some excellent movements.

When they did make a few errors in the second half they let the French grab back a bit of control and their forwards looked as if they could get a grip on the game, but I was proud of the character and self-belief the Welsh showed in the final quarter of the game when their pack did sterling service.

The essence of the Welsh performance was the way they varied things. They creaked a little in the scrums and were done out of a few line-outs but their willingness to change their approach was the new ingredient in their game.

Another aspect of their game that delighted me was that they had more depth in their backs. They had been too flat previously but they weren't yesterday and they gave the French no end of trouble with the swiftness of their movement and their decoy running.

Wales have been brilliant in snatches in previous game but in Paris they sustained it for longer periods. Their first-half performance was especially thrilling and at half-time my only concern was whether they could keep it up against a team hell-bent on their third Grand Slam. But although they wavered a little they came back with courage and style.

Much was dependent on the mental and physical battle between the two outside-halves, Neil Jenkins and Thomas Castaignede. I interviewed Castaignede in France last week and he really is a great character and was full of confidence about this match. He didn't play brilliantly in Ireland but he got the winning kick and yesterday he was faced with a similar situation. You could tell he didn't fancy it and neither would I. This time he missed and I think the result was just. Kicking at that level under such intensity is very demanding and Jenkins, who I believe is the best kicker in the world, missed a string of kicks himself in that nerve-racking second half. But when it came to the crunch kick he put it over.

In addition to kicking the winner, Jenkins had a very good game and came out on top of his personal contest with Castaignede. In fairness to the Frenchman, he had to move to centre when Philippe Bernat-Salles went off, but in the first half, Jenkins made a few excellent breaks that stunned the French defence. It was a shame that Wales didn't finish them off but I thought that Jenkins lacked support, especially from Scott Gibbs, who had a quiet game by his standards. So often has Jenkins been criticised but so rarely does he have the benefit of options either side that were won for him yesterday and he made very good use of them.

Scott Quinnell played well as did Colin Charvis and Shane Howarth and the new boys took a share of the glory. But in the end it was a super team performance that had been previously promised but not delivered.

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