Rugby Union: Welsh renaissance: Clem Thomas salutes a victory for flair and firepower over the French

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WALES are back in business, bound at least to share this year's championship. To make it sweeter for their supporters in Cardiff yesterday, there was not a glimmer of a fluke about this, their first victory over France for 12 years.

The Welsh played a game of splendid strategy and magnificent composure, which saw them carving out a 17-3 lead, until the French rallied through a surging try scored by Olivier Roumat and then a typical try by the great Philippe Sella, which took them to within two points of the Welsh at 17-15 with only 16 minutes remaining.

At that point, you would have put your money on France, but to their credit the Welsh rediscovered their concentration and began again to carry the game to the French. With excitement growing in intensity their final brave effort culminated in another try scored by the Olympic speedman Nigel Walker.

However, if there were 15 brave Welshmen, there was one who stood out like a beacon and had the game of his life. Young Scott Quinnell played a game of such power, pace and maturity off the back of the scrum that he made a great French back row look positively pedestrian.

His astonishing lunge for that critical first Welsh try was so psychologically damaging for the French but so encouraging for the Welsh by the force of its commitment and execution. The general pace of his driving off the back of the scrum baffled the French defence.

There were other fine performances, not the least by the Welsh locks, the captain Gareth Llewellyn and Phil Davies, who saw to it that the French line- out was often razed to the ground. Then there were the wholehearted efforts of Rupert Moon, who never looks the part but manages to be remarkably effective. Another crucial factor was the fine place-kicking of Neil Jenkins, who, in contrast to his counterpart La Croix, who missed seven kicks at goal, was deadly.

The teams, who had previously scored eight of the nine tries in this year's championship, four each, were again even with two apiece but the difference this time was the Welsh goalkicking. What the coaches Alan Davies and Gareth Jenkins have done most is to build a solid defence.

Alan Davies said after the match that the Welsh tackling had carried the day. He described Scott Quinnell's performance as 'massive and decisive', and declared that the team will be 'busting a gut' at Twickenham to win their first Triple Crown since 1988 and their first Grand Slam since 1978. Scott Quinnell's reaction to the victory was simple. 'I will treasure this day for the rest of my life,' he said.

(Photograph omitted)