Rugby Union: Henry turns Charvis into a main chancer

Wales' powerhouse now grabs openings when he sees them.
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THE FIVE NATIONS test that deserved 10 out of 10 for style and dramatic content at the Stade de France was only six minutes old when Wales scored their first try through their No 6 Colin Charvis. Like any good back-row forward, Charvis was in support following a Robert Howley break which ran into a desperate defence near the French posts.

Brett Sinkinson, making an impressive debut, was first to the breakdown and he flipped up a pass to Charvis. "There was what seemed like car-crash tackling all around," the Swansea flanker recalled. "I went through Thomas Castaignede, span out of another tackle and stretched for the line. We had a six-man overlap and my first thought was `Oh my God, what have I done?' If I hadn't scored I'd have looked a right fool."

Using his strength, height and dexterity Charvis, despite being surrounded by three Frenchmen - his left arm was being held by Franck Comba - planted the ball over the line with one hand. "Suddenly we were 10 points up and France knew they were in a game. It was their turn to play catch-up."

France, of course, not only caught up but took the lead at 33-31 in the 74th minute before Neil Jenkins applied the coup de grace. In defeat, the French are not always magnanimous but at the after-match dinner Raphael Ibanez, their captain, asked his team to stand and drink a toast to their opponents. The French newspapers were also full of praise for Wales's Gaelic flair.

But then Wales had been refreshingly different in losing a game, Graham Henry's first as coach, they could have won against the world champions South Africa at Wembley in November. "Graham reminded us that although it was good against South Africa we hadn't been ruthless enough to win," Charvis said. "And the reason we lost to Scotland and Ireland was that we only put it together for about 20-minute spells. This time our game plan was to play fast and wide right from the off. A key is that France are renowned for playing rugby, and we thought that if we were going to run it they would take up the challenge. Win or lose it was going to be an exciting day."

Wales led 28-18 at half-time and Henry, who had yet to taste his first Five Nations success, could not contemplate defeat. "He told us to sit down quietly at half-time and regain our composure. He instilled even more confidence by emphasising there was no question we could win the match, but that we'd have to carry on playing in the same manner. If we sat back we'd be asking for trouble.

"To be honest, I can't remember that much. Some of the movements contained six phases and everything seemed to whizz by. Everyone was blowing quite hard and the replacements said they had no time to get into the game because it was so intense. It's been a long time coming, and what an arena to do it in."

Charvis and the centre Mark Taylor are the only survivors from the 96- 13 massacre by the Springboks in Pretoria last year. "There was nothing we could do," Charvis said. "We had a lot of youngsters in the side and that was a terrible way to introduce them to international rugby. South Africa were on top of their game and whatever they tried came off. Mark admitted afterwards he didn't have a clue where they were coming from. It was the most awful experience."

From the ridiculous to the sublime in less than a year. It wasn't so long ago that Charvis was playing Fifth Division rugby for London Welsh, joining the Exiles while a student at Central London Polytechnic. His father, Lloyd, had emigrated from Jamaica to the Midlands and served in the RAF. After winning Wales Under-21 and Welsh Students' caps with London Welsh he moved to Swansea in 1995. He made his debut for Wales the following year and has played everywhere in the back row.

After being named Man of the Match, with two impressive tries, in the victory over Argentina at Stradey Park three-and-a-half months ago, he celebrated a little too enthusiastically. The following day, after visiting relatives in Walsall, his BMW was involved in an accident and he was banned for 18 months for drink driving; subsequently he promoted a police video, The Mourning After, highlighting the dangers of driving the morning after drinking. Although Swansea are at Newcastle today, Charvis has a free weekend. "I won't be sitting in a pub watching rugby," he said.

He has other things on his mind. No sooner had Wales finished celebrating than Cardiff and Swansea, the rebel clubs involved in England's Premiership, were fearing expulsion, if not from the Welsh Rugby Union itself, then the national cup competition. With Henry taking an active part in what seems to be an insoluble problem, no decisions were reached on Thursday and talks have been deferred. If the two clubs are suspended it is possible, although unlikely, that Wales could lose half their team for the game against England at Wembley in April.

The 26-year-old Charvis is under contract with both the WRU and Swansea. "The club pay most of my wages and there's no way I'm going to turn my back on them," he said. "There's talk that we'll be ordered to play for other teams, but what benefit would there be to Wales if they had a group of unhappy players? I wouldn't be playing for Wales if Swansea hadn't given me the opportunity in the first place.

"Club rugby in Wales is too stagnant. A lot of our players have come on leaps and bounds by playing against the English. An example is Matthew Robinson. If he was still with Newport he wouldn't get a look-in. Most want to play to the highest standard week in week out. Swansea and Cardiff will play against the English in a valid competition and if there are mergers the only doubt is what name we will be playing under. It's time for compromises to be made and egos forgotten. Everybody wants to be in control, but few are thinking about the players and spectators."

In between the sport and the politics, Charvis has been enjoying the post-Paris feel-good factor. "Everyone felt a part of it. I've had letters and there have been kids visiting the house. The whole nation has been enjoying an amazing euphoria."