Rugby Union: Wales braced for `kitchen sink' drama

IT IS all very well beating the world champions in a warm-up match in the heat of summer, then accounting for a brave but ingenuous Canadian team, but it is quite another to expect to pull off a double against France, especially given how disappointing they were last weekend.

After cheekily slipping out of the back door of the Stade de France with a one-point victory margin and leaving behind some snorting and indignant Frenchmen, Wales today face the consequences for that rash act of a Five Nations win in Paris, and if they are as shambolic on the pitch as the Welsh Rugby Union's ticketing has been, they could well succumb.

As far as the French are concerned, today's match at the 63,000 sell- out Millennium Stadium in Cardiff has nothing to do with warming up for the World Cup and everything to do with revenge for last March. And while that is a dish best served cold, there is no doubt Wales will be confronted by some hot-blooded - not to say hot-headed - Frenchmen this afternoon. "This is our chance to get our own back for the defeat in Paris," said the team manager, Jo Maso.

That March day saw the start of Wales' unbeaten run of seven matches to date, all under the captaincy of scrum-half Rob Howley, and the coach, Graham Henry, said it was the kick-start - the match in which he began to get everything right.

"Up to then I was not coaching as well as I could have," Henry said. "It was not lack of desire, but I was pushing the passion button rather than the thinking button and it took me a while to work it out."

The Wales victory was something of a watershed for France as well. They lost their next two matches, to England and Scotland, before embarking on a gruelling southern hemisphere trek which saw them beat Western Samoa, but lose to Tonga and suffer a record thrashing against New Zealand, having also been well beaten by New Zealand A.

No wonder the French were talking up Wales yesterday. But Thomas Castaignede, their match-winning stand-off, who is no relation to the scrum-half Stephane of the same name, ventured into the preposterous when he suggested that Wales could win the World Cup. "Wales can spring many surprises during the World Cup. Graham Henry is one of the world's best coaches and they could win it."

But neither Henry nor his charges will be taken in by such flattery. They are focusing on today's match. The tournament comes later.

"France will be very tough," said the New Zealander. "They have won one Test out of their last six. They have been away on camp in the mountains. They will have been eating barbed wire and they will come up against us frothing at the mouth. They will throw the kitchen sink at us. But it is a great opportunity for us to see how far we have come. We are playing on our home field, so I don't think we can have any excuses whatsoever."

There is a current of doubt swirling beneath the surface of the French camp, despite Maso's words. Castaignede said: "I am not confident, but we will do our best. If we lose it is important it is not by many points. But for us the important match is on 2 October, against Canada."

They would still prefer to go into that World Cup opener with a win against Wales. Whether they can cope with the avalanche of sound that is likely to tumble down from all sides of the pounds 120m Millennium Stadium remains to be seen. It may be that the mess surrounding the mailing of match tickets, which has left disgruntled supporters without access, will count in France's favour. But Wales will still have their work cut out if they are to pull the plug on the Tricolores and their kitchen sink.

Wales' World Cup fight for Australia's Jason Jones-Hughes will go into extra time. The International Rugby Board have decided to debate his eligibility as a prospective Welsh World Cup player on 5 September.

A three-man IRB panel last month blocked Jones-Hughes' Wales ambitions, claiming he was ineligible, having represented Australian Barbarians against Scotland last year.

But the New South Walian, who qualifies through his father, appealed. The case will be heard by the IRB executive committee after they decided it requires special treatment. Rugby World Cup officials have given Henry an extra fortnight to nominate his 30th player.

WALES v FRANCE

at the Millennium Stadium

S Howarth Newport 15 U Mola Castres

G Thomas Cardiff 14 X Garbajosa Toulouse

M Taylor Swansea 13 R Dourthe Stade Francais

S Gibbs Swansea 12 S Glas Bourgoin

D James Llanelli 11 C Dominici Stade Francais

N Jenkins Cardiff 10 T Castaignede Castres

R Howley Cardiff, capt 9 S Castaignede Mont de Marsan

P Rogers Newport 1 C Califano Toulouse

G Jenkins Swansea 2 R Ibanez Perpignan, capt

D Young Cardiff 3 P De Villiers Stade Francais

C Quinnell Cardiff 4 A Benazzi Agen

C Wyatt Llanelli 5 F Pelous Toulouse

C Charvis Swansea 6 M Lievremont Stade Francais

S Quinnell Llanelli 8 T Lievremont Perpignan

B Sinkinson Neath) 7 O Magne Montferrand

Referee: P Honiss (New Zealand). Kick-off: 3pm (S4C)

Replacements: 16 A Bateman (Northampton), 17 S Jones (Llanelli), 18 D Llewellyn (Newport), 19 M Voyle (Llanelli), 20 B Evans (Swansea), 21 A Lewis, 22 J Humphreys (both Cardiff).

Replacements: 16 Mignoni (Toulon), 17 C Lamaison (Brive), 18 E Ntamack (Toulouse), 19 L Mallier (Brive), 20 D Auradou (Stade Francais), 21 C Soulette (Toulosue), 22 M Dal Maso (Colomiers).

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