Rugby Union: Wales and Jenkins are sure to bounce back

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France (20) 27 Wales (10) 22

Merle, Leflamand 2 Tries G Thomas, Bateman Venditti Howley

Dourthe, Aucagne Cons Jenkins 2

Aucagne Pen Jenkins

The bounce of the ball has twice made a dog's dinner of life for Neil Jenkins at full-back. The first time was against Ireland, when the ball hit the protective padding around a post and eluded the Welshman's grasp only to settle obligingly in the arms of Irishman Jonathan Bell. Then, at the Parc des Princes on Saturday, David Aucagne's attempted dropped goal left Jenkins for dead as it hit the deck and allowed Christophe Lamaison get the ball out to Laurent Leflamand, who then scored his second, and France's fourth, crucial try.

Still, Jenkins maintained afterwards: "I'm enjoying playing at full-back. I'm learning quietly all the time, but it's a difficult position to get used to." As for the luck of the bounce, Jenkins insisted: "I don't think any fullback in the world could have dealt with either of those."

In fact, France found it difficult to deal with the rediscovered bounce in the Welsh play. Their coach, Kevin Bowring, has fanned the spark that has always been there and this season it is bursting into flames. The French never completely doused that fire and their assistant coach, Pierre Villepreux, said afterwards: "I applaud the Welsh approach. If they choose to play this way in future they will very soon become difficult to beat."

But so should the French when they tackle England at Twickenham on St David's Day. A match that effectively becomes the Grand Slam showdown. If history and superstition are anything to go by then France should go into the game with a distinct edge. They have won two of their Grand Slams when the year has ended in a seven - 1977 and 1987.

Yet for the French invasion is to succeed then they will need to eradicate their plethora of unforced errors and handling gaffes. Wales may have matched them in that department but the English are unlikely to do so. The frequent knock-ons, spilled ball and stray passes would have alarmed many a coach but not Villepreux, who said: "Mistakes will always happen if you try running the ball. But we want to run the ball. That's the way we want to play, it makes for good rugby."

That was certainly true against Wales. It was an exciting game and the errors only added to the tension and expectation, and when either side got it right they produced some breathtaking rugby. That is what France will be looking to repeat against England. Villepreux promised: "We will take exactly the same approach to Twickenham, but there will be fewer mistakes, more points and more tries."

There will be be fewer first- choice players though. They went into the match against Wales without half a dozen preferred players because of injury or suspension and ended it with a further two casualties, critically one of those, Richard Dourthe, is unlikely to have recovered from a dislocated shoulder by the time the Tricolores cross the Channel on 1 March.

Neither Philippe Benetton nor the other talented centre Thomas Castaignede will have recovered from their broken jaws and the French management team was gloomy about the prognoses on Philippe Saint-Andre, Emile Ntamack and Alain Penaud. And they will definitely have to do something about the line-out. England would have slaughtered them had they had the amount of possession Gareth Llewellyn was able to acquire on French throws throughout an enthralling contest.

Wales' back row looked in fine fettle. Scott Quinnell was more thoughtful in his options against France than he had been when confronted by the Irish. He ensured he had support before taking the ball on and the half- backs, Rob Howley and the imaginative Arwel Thomas, used the stream of possession well enough.

Centres Scott Gibbs and Allan Bateman were exemplary in defence and going forward. Their slick handling, stunning lines of running and drop dead gorgeous passes, should have done more damage than was ultimately the case. Wing Gareth Thomas has a tendency to turn confidence into arrogance but, when he in full flow, he is magnificent. He played a huge part in maintaining Wales momentum.

Not many sides leave the Parc des Princes without victory after running in three tries as Wales did. But French flair produced one more and perpetuated their remarkable record against Wales on home turf. They have only lost once to Wales - in 1975 - in all the time they have been at the Parc. Now Wales will not get another chance at the stadium because by 1999 France will be ensconced in a new purpose-built 80,000 all-seater elsewhere in the capital. But as long as the rugby remains of this quality then it will not matter. Both sides are to be saluted for enterprising play which produced entertaining rugby. The Dragon is out of his cave and breathing fire. The hwyl is back in Welsh rugby. While the Tricolore is creeping to the top of the flagpole. England beware.

FRANCE: J-L Sadourny (Colomiers); L Leflamand (Bourgoin), R Dourthe (Dax), S Glas (Bourgoin), D Venditti; C Lamaison, P Carbonneau (all Brive); J- L Jordana (Toulouse), M Dal Maso (Agen), C Califano, H Miorin (both Toulouse), O Merle (Montferrand), R Castel (Beziers), F Pelous (Dax), A Benazzi (Agen, capt). Replacements: D Aucagne (Pau) for Dourthe 23; O Magne (Dax) for Miorin, 54.

WALES: N Jenkins (Pontypridd); I Evans (Llanelli), A Bateman (Richmond), S Gibbs (Swansea), G Thomas (Bridgend); A Thomas, (Swansea), R Howley (Cardiff); C Loader (Swansea), J Humphreys (capt), D Young (both Cardiff), G O Llewellyn (Harlequins), M Rowley (Pontypridd), S Williams (Neath), S Quinnell (Richmond), C Charvis (Swansea). Replacement: J Davies (Cardiff) for Evans 58.

Referee: P Marshall (Australia)