Rugby Union: One in eye for French front row

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Wales 34 France 23

A FRIENDLY this was not. Two yellow cards and accusations of foul play were testimony enough. But even before the kick-off it was evident that Wales for one were taking it seriously; seriously enough to refuse a French request to allow them to play 30 players, 15 in each half, and treat it as a genuine practice match. Wales wanted a proper warm-up, and they got it.

It boiled over in the first minute and long after the final whistle there were eruptions of steam from the French camp, stand-off Thomas Castaignede suggesting that the Welsh were up to all sorts of unpleasantries in the scrum. "They tried to excite us, tried to make us crazy," he said. Then, with two fingers pointing at his eyes, as if indicating gouging, he added: "Some Welshmen did some bad things to us. There were some problems between the French and the Welsh in the past and I think they worked on that today."

All the Wales hooker Garin Jenkins would admit was: "There were six 16- stoners getting together in the front row, wanting to get the better of each other."

And Castaignede ultimately dismissed the skulduggery as irrelevant in the grander scale of things, graciously conceding that Wales were superior and had as good a chance as any in the World Cup.

But he did make one important point. "For us it is always difficult to explain to the referees what is going on, particularly in the scrums, because of the language barrier. I think we should have a referee who speaks French. Or perhaps before we are selected to play for France, we should be made to sit an English exam."

He was backed up by the team's coaching consultant, Pierre Villepreux, who said: "In the professional era referees have time to learn another language or two, maybe French and Italian. I think it is important for a referee to speak French, for example, because many stupidities could be eradicated and certainly many acts of indiscipline could be avoided."

Those acts of indiscipline by the French proved costly. Wales had their siege gunner of a kicker, Neil Jenkins, who became the third player this year after Japan's Keiji Hirose and New Zealand's Andrew Mehrtens to kick nine penalties in a Test.

But the glory belonged to the Welsh front five. It must have been a torrid place to be, trapped for the near hour and a half that the match went on, in between two such scrummages. What with flying fists and fur, cataracts of sweat as they grunted and shoved and pushed and groaned, before breaking up and rumbling on to the next battleground, perhaps linking up with their backs on the way, or stopping off to put in yet another big hit, anything caught between would have been left in a mess. The French forwards were far from lambs, but the Welsh still managed to drive them as they wanted, eventually herding them into an ineffectual state of neutrality.

Even so Garin Jenkins insisted afterwards: "We have to go up a gear before we start challenging the All Blacks, Australia and South Africa consistently. We have another 20 per cent to go; right now we are probably just below the top four or five in the world." And despite the victory over South Africa earlier this summer he said: "We have not played them for any silverware yet, so that will be the measure of us."

For all the playing down of their performance, this victory extended their unbeaten run to eight matches and they have now won nine out of the dozen Tests they have played since Graham Henry took over as coach last September.

But Henry dismissed the unbeaten run which was last achieved between 1969 and 1972 and he said: "I think we should be pleased with our progress, but winning our last eight games in a row is a worry in itself. Being unbeaten can be a team's Achilles' heel. We need to concentrate on playing the game better rather than worry about winning trots."

Wales did concede a couple of tries, but at least they scored the try of the match. Captain Rob Howley looped around Neil Jenkins for a return pass, sent out a torpedo of a miss-pass to wing Gareth Thomas; he fed full-back Shane Howarth, who had burst through on an acute angle, and Dafydd James rounded it off in style in the left-hand corner.

That score highlighted a potential future problem Wales may have. There is every likelihood that they will find themselves in hot water with local or European legislation on the grounds that the crowds they are attracting are guilty of noise pollution. There were 63,000 in the Millennium Stadium, 9,000 fewer than the capacity when Wales take on Argentina in the first match of the World Cup on 1 October, and the noise was deafening, intimidating at times and wonderful to behold. What it will be like when Wales really get going is something to ponder.

Wales: Try James; Conversion N Jenkins; Penalties N Jenkins 9.

France: Tries Mallier, Mignoni; Conversions Dourthe, Lamaison; Penalties Dourthe 2, Lamaison.

WALES: S Howarth (Newport); G Thomas (Cardiff), M Taylor, S Gibbs (both Swansea), D James (Llanelli); N Jenkins (Cardiff), R Howley (Cardiff, capt); P Rogers (Newport), G Jenkins (Swansea), D Young, C Quinnell (both Cardiff), C Wyatt (Llanelli), C Charvis (Swansea), S Quinnell (Llanelli), B Sinkinson (Neath). Replacements: M Voyle (Llanelli) for S Quinnell, 48

FRANCE: U Mola (Castres); X Garbajosa (Toulouse), R Dourthe (Dax), S Glas (Bourgoin), 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). Replacements: L Mallier (Brive) for T Lievremont, 33; C Lamaison (Brive) for Glas, 39; C Soulette (Toulouse) for Califano 41-70; P Mignoni (Toulon) for S Castaignede, 41; E Ntamack (Toulouse) for Garbajosa, 41; M dal Maso (Colomiers) for Ibanez, 56; Garbajosa for Dourthe, 57-65; D Auradou (Stade Francais) for Garbajosa, 65.

Referee: P Honiss (New Zealand).

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