Rugby Union: Rough guide to a miracle

Jonathan Davies says the Welsh can force the unthinkable to happen at Wembley
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The Independent Online
IT'S a brave call to say that Wales have a chance against France at Wembley this afternoon but I'm never short of a glimmer of optimism where Wales are concerned and the fancy I had for them before the Irish match is still present - perhaps not as strong but it is there all the same.

Recent results between the teams support the feeling that Wales shouldn't be written off. We have won two of the last four Five Nations matches against the French and only just lost in Paris last year, 27-22. But France are a much different prospect now.

They have shaken off the effects of the beating they took from South Africa earlier in the season and are building up solidly towards the World Cup. The scare they had against Ireland in Paris last month is not likely to work in Wales's favour because the French will be more wary of taking things for granted. The only hope the Welsh have is to do an Ireland on them, to harass and disturb them throughout. As it was in Dublin, the key is whether the Welsh forwards can get parity.

The French strength in these championships has been the pace of their pack. The front row is strong and rock solid while the back five all play like wing forwards and are frighteningly quick. Olivier Magne, in particular, is an incredible player and once he and his colleagues get command, the scrum-half, Philippe Carbonneau, begins to pull the strings.

Wales must not let that happen and be determined to hustle them away from the game they want to play. For all its changes, rugby remains basically a physical game and when you are the underdogs, rattling the opposition is the best option.

I don't necessarily mean rough stuff, although a touch of that wouldn't go amiss, but to be in their faces all the time. Carbonneau, great player that he is, is a volatile little character, so getting him a bit upset is worthwhile. One thing guaranteed to get players of this calibre rattled is not to let them have their own way.

Unlike Ireland, both England and Scotland made the mistake of allowing the French forwards to drive at them, get a roll on and suck them in before whipping quick ball out to Carbonneau. You allow them do that and you're dead.

When they start driving, you must slow them down and disrupt the flow. This is where Stuart Davies is going to play a big part. I didn't think that Colin Charvis deserved to lose the No 8 position after his display in Dublin but Stuart is the man in form in that spot. He is not the quickest around the park but he is a wily old campaigner and he will know how to slow them down and deny them space.

The Welsh camp must have noticed that one of Carbonneau's favourite ploys is to run at defenders and give short passes to forwards running at an angle off his shoulder. It is very effective at punching holes in the defensive line. Wales will have to step in and knock them down and not give them the time to mount a drive.

The Welsh defenders must get in amongst them in broken play. The Irish did this wonderfully well and got a try out of it when Denis Hickie intercepted a pass. If you dissuade them from throwing it about and make them think twice, you will be taking the edge off their attacks.

But when Wales attack, the ball cannot come quick enough. The best chance the Welsh have of scoring is to use their speed and subtle skills as rapidly as possible and that means attacking them at speed from set-pieces. The Welsh line-outs have been a serious problem this season and I hope they've realised that the catch and drive is not for them. Let's be frank, at this level they are useless at it.

The best chance Wales have at line-outs is to vary them as much as possible with the accent on off-the-top ball and a shorter line. This ploy worked well last season because the forwards not in the line mingled with the backs and caused a bit of disarray among the opposition.

Quick line-out ball worked well against Ireland and could be telling today, especially when you have a player like Leigh Davies who then gets a chance to show off his passing. But it is essential that the back three add their pace down the middle. Kevin Morgan did this well against the Irish but we didn't see many Gareth Thomas charges.

The French will like the Wembley surface but I trust the Welsh atmosphere will be as potent as it was against Scotland and that the team's confidence will be high. If they work a miracle today after what happened to them at Twickenham it'll be the best comeback in Five Nations history.