Rugby Union: `It doesn't get any better than this'

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ROBERT HOWLEY last night toasted the most memorable day of his rugby life after Wales' historic victory. After lead ing Wales to their first victory over France in Paris for 24 years he said: "It doesn't get any better than this. This is the best moment of my career."

He immediately dedicated the victory to Wales's New Zealand coach, Graham Henry. "It's nice to see the players repay a quality coach," he said. "You saw a game deserving of Graham Henry's coaching abilities."

Howley was particularly delighted with the way his side had raised their performance after the disappointment of their opening two defeats by Scotland and Ireland, which had taken the gloss off their autumn performances against South Africa and Argentina. "We had the basics right, our ball retention was spot on," he said. "The way we want to play is a big ask on our forwards. But I've got to take my hat off to them. From one to eight the way they played was great to see."

For his part, Henry also admitted it was the greatest moment of his career. "It was a marvellous occasion," he said. "The only other occasion I've been involved in like that was Natal v Auckland Blues in the first year of the Super 12. And even that pales into insignificance compared to this.

"This is definitely the biggest and most satisfying occasion I've ever been involved with," Henry added. "I told them to be bold and keep being bold. Being bold wins rugby matches, being shy doesn't.

"The guys played real rugby, they kept the ball, never handing it over as we had done in previous games, until we ran out of steam a bit," explained the Wales coach. "The players enjoy playing that sort of rugby. They kept the ball in hand, took the opposition on and that's what the game is about.

"You have meetings after losing and parties after winning and I am looking forward to the party. You can feel the self-belief coming into the camp. The way we played is the only way to be competitive in world rugby."

His opposite number, Jean-Claude Skrela, was equally impressed. "One could say that today we saw the All Blacks playing in red jerseys," he said. "I think that the Welsh played rugby as it should be played nowadays."

And another happy man was the former Welsh full-back JPR Williams, who played in Wales' last win in Paris and had delayed his 50th birthday party from Tuesday until after the game yesterday. "This is the best present I could have asked for - I'm euphoric," he said. "The team played with huge self-belief and deserved what they got. It is Graham Henry who deserves all the pats on the back. This was his victory."

The only worried note came from Clive Woodward, the coach of France's next opponents, England. "It means we'll get a pumped-up French team at Twickenham." he said gloomily.