Rugby Union: Jenkins flourish finishes France

World Cup countdown: Wales' emphatic build-up continues apace as visitors experience deja-vu
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Wales 34 France 23

Tries: James Tries: Mallier, Mignoni

Cons: N Jenkins Cons: Dourthe, Lamaison

Pens: N Jenkins 9 Pens: Dourthe 2, Lamaison

Half-time: 12-6 Attendance: 63,000

BRICK BY brick, they're getting there. Just as the Millennium Stadium is nearing completion, so the foundations being laid by Graham Henry are being infused with reinforced steel.

Wales, recast and reinvented under the inspirational leadership of the former Auckland coach, reeled off their eighth successive victory yesterday when France found the Millennium experience too hot to handle. When Wales beat the world champions, South Africa, here a few months ago, it was before an audience of fewer that 30,000 at the half-completed stadium. Yesterday there were 63,000 at Cardiff, and when Wales kick off the World Cup here against Argentina at the beginning of October there will be a full house of 75,000.

By then the noise generated at a ground which seems to have the acoustic quality of the Royal Albert Hall, will be astounding. Wales are feeding off the frenzy. Henry has been saying all along that Wales are not good enough to win the World Cup and he might be right, but the numbers listening to him are dwindling with every match.

Wales, for whom Neil Jenkins equalled the world record with nine penalties, were outscored two tries to one but, in the context of the game, it was a technicality. France were up for this but were put through the mangle at the scrums by the hugely impressive trio of Peter Rogers, Garin Jenkins and David Young.

As French discipline also began to crack, Jenkins kicked them to death, but the new found esprit de corps in the Welsh side was demonstrated early in the second half. From being 12-6 ahead Wales found themselves trailing by a point, and as French hopes were raised the Welsh lost one of their key forwards, Scott Quinnell, with a leg injury. It would not have required a fertile imagination to have forecast the subsequent demise from that point of a Welsh side pre-Henry. Instead, Wales raised their game to a new level.

As acid tests go this one contained more than its fair share of vitriol. It did not, perhaps could not, compare with the classic in Paris in March when Wales won 34-33 before a privileged crowd at the Stade de France. That extraordinary match marked a watershed for both countries. It was the beginning of Wales's run of success and, for France, a defeat that exposed a fragile psyche and led to indecision in the hierarchy.

France had won only one of their last six matches, but yesterday they were ready to mix it. Although the match was a "friendly", that too was a mere technicality. This was a much harder game than the thriller at Stade de France, a point emphasised within the opening minutes when both packs set about each other with the ball a mile away.

After 20 minutes Jenkins and Richard Dourthe had kicked two penalties apiece, Abdelatif Benazzi had been warned and Raphael Ibanez, the French captain, had been shown the yellow card.

Midway through the half the most encouraging sign for Wales was that Pieter de Villiers had been penalised for collapsing a scrum. Jenkins added two more penalties (he also failed with two) and Lionel Mallier, who had been on the field for a minute, was also shown the yellow card for upending Robert Howley after the scrum-half had taken a tap penalty.

France, who made a bewildering number of changes, went immediately on to the attack in the second half. After Emile N'tamack had made ground on the right wing, France won a lineout a few yards from the Welsh line, and although Benazzi's initial drive was halted, Mallier span off him to crash over for the first try. Trailing 12-13 and losing the services of the hugely effective Scott Quinnell, Wales responded in emphatic style. With Jenkins playing as flat as a pancake, Wales invariably won a penalty whenever they tried to run it and Jenkins mercilessly put the boot in.

He put Wales in front again with penalties in the 47th and 50th minutes and added yet another a minute later following a typically surging run from the impressive Gareth Thomas. On that occasion, had referee Paul Honiss played advantage, it would have resulted in a try for Shane Howarth.

Nevertheless, Wales were now 21-13 in front and in full cry. Scott Gibbs made a formidable break in midfield which should have led to a try. He had Howarth to his left and Thomas to his right and chose to put in a little grub kick which did not fall kindly for the right wing.

When the French front row collapsed again, Jenkins kicked his fourth successive penalty. If this amounted to victory, the crowd would take it, but what they really wanted was a Welsh try, and it came in the 72nd minute. Colin Charvis took a lineout deep in French territory, Howley looped outside Jenkins, and Thomas and Howarth provided the extra manpower to give Dafydd James space on the left wing. The big winger, who on occasions in the past has looked a little sluggish, took the opportunity brilliantly to finish with a flourish.

Jenkins, needless to say, converted from the touchline and then banged over his ninth penalty to equal the world record which had been set by Andew Mehrtens of New Zealand and Keiji Hirose of Japan.

In injury time, a scrappy spell of play allowed Pierre Mignoni to score France's second try, but even that did nothing to soften the explosion of noise from the newly converted.

Wales: S Howarth (Newport); G Thomas (Cardiff), M Taylor (Swansea), S Gibbs (Swansea), D James (Llanelli); N Jenkins (Cardiff), R Howley (Cardiff, capt); P Rogers (Newport), G Jenkins (Swansea), D Young (Cardiff), C Quinnell (Cardiff), C Wyatt (Llanelli), C Charvis (Swansea), S Quinnell (Llanelli), B Sinkinson (Neath).

France: U Mola (Castres); X Garbajosa (Toulouse), R Dourthe (Dax), S Glas (Bourgoin-Jallieu), C Dominici (Stade Francais); T Castaignede (Castres), S Castaignede (Mont-de-Marsan); C Califano (Toulouse), R Ibanez (Perpignan, capt), P De Villiers (Stade Francais), A Benazzi (Agen), F Pelous (Toulouse), M Lievremont (Stade Francais), T Lievremont (Perpignan), O Magne (Montferrand).

Referee: P Honiss (New Zealand).