Rugby: Welsh pride up against French form

FIVE NATIONS' CHAMPIONSHIP
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The Independent Online
When a French rock, Richard Dourthe, meets a Welsh hard case, Scott Gibbs, in Paris this afternoon woe betide anyone caught in the middle. The pair of them will be at the epicentre of the confrontation between France and Wales at the Parc des Princes.

Wales, with a miserable run of 10 Five Nations defeats on the trot stretching back 22 years in the French capital, and here on the rebound after perpetuating another dismal run with a home defeat against Ireland two weeks ago, do not intend rolling over and letting the Tricolores get away with anything.

For their part France will be looking to complete the second leg of what the nation hopes will be a Grand Slam and wrap up fixtures between the two countries at the Parc before moving to a purpose-built stadium elsewhere in the capital next year.

But there's many a slip twixt Five Nations cup and lip. Having lost half a dozen first-choice players through injury or suspension the last thing the French want is for Dourthe, the erstwhile bad boy - he has been variously accused of kicking England's Ben Clarke, punching Wales' Ieuan Evans and spitting at Neil Jenkins as well as breaking the ribs of his closest friend, Thomas Castaignede, courtesy of a late tackle - to misbehave today. Remarkably, the heaviest penalty Dourthe has had imposed on him was a one-match ban for the Clarke incident.

Dourthe, 22, who plays at full-back for Dax, missed the French victory over Ireland last month after suffering concussion following a training ground collision, and he was one of the six enforced changes to the side, coming in at centre for Castaignede, who is recovering from a broken jaw.

Today, promises Dourthe, he will be a good boy. "I have gone over the top several times," he admitted. "I am too impulsive. A modern player should not lose control as I have done, but I believe I have turned that corner and you will now see a different Richard Dourthe."

Not too different though. France will need his aggressive edge and fiery spirit. Wales are dangerous. Allan Bateman, like Gibbs, a prodigal from rugby league, poses a very real midfield threat and Dourthe is aware of this. He says: "The rugby league players have transformed the approach of this Welsh side."

Dourthe, who was barely a month old when his father Claude played for France in 1975 on the occasion of Wales' last victory at Parc des Princes, must have some subliminal memory of that Gallic slip-up because he insists: "Deep down I fear the Welsh far more than I fear the English.

"In their opening match the English stuck rigidly to their game plan and in my opinion did not display much of a threat. Whereas even in defeat against Ireland two weeks ago the Welsh showed a spirit that we have not seen from them in a long time."

If Wales are to storm the French line successfully they will need an exemplary performance from their pack. Against Ireland they committed the cardinal sin of losing the ball in the tackle and turning over possession to their opponents too frequently which meant they could not provide a sound platform for their backs to work on.

That performance prompted a veteran of the 1975 triumph, Charlie Faulkner, to say: "Some of the forwards are very lucky to be given another chance. You feel like putting a few back in Mothercare's window. If the attitude and application isn't totally different from that shown against Ireland then they will get a hiding. Nice guys win nothing, especially at Parc des Princes."

Talking of nice guys, Dourthe kicked 20 points when France beat Wales 40-33 in Cardiff last September. Despite that Dourthe continues to talk up the Welsh. "Apart from the ultra-hard Gibbs-Bateman pairing at centre," he explains, "they also have Ieuan Evans, who remains a redoubtable finisher, Arwel Thomas, who has established himself at fly-half, not to mention a formidable back row. This Welsh side is singing a very different song from the one we faced last September. If Wales win in Paris, they will win the Five Nations' Championship."

That "if" reverberates around the concrete bowl of the Parc des Princes. Wales who were relieved to see their full-back and goal-kicker Jenkins, and Bateman come through a rigorous work-out yesterday, will have an awful lot to do.

Paris is braced for an epic encounter. History and form favour France, but pride and rekindled passion could lift Wales to greater heights.

FRANCE v WALES

at Parc des Princes, Paris

J-L Sadourny Colomiers 15 N Jenkins Pontypridd

L Leflamand Bourgoin 14 I Evans Llanelli

R Dourthe Dax 13 A Bateman Richmond

S Glas Bourgoin 12 S Gibbs Swansea

D Venditti Brive 11 G Thomas Bridgend

C Lamaison Brive 10 A Thomas Swansea

P Carbonneau Brive 9 R Howley Cardiff

C Califano Toulouse 1 C Loader Swansea

M Dal Maso Agen 2 J Humphreys Cardiff, capt

J-L Jordana Toulouse 3 D Young Cardiff

H Miorin Toulouse 4 Gareth Llewellyn Harlequins

O Merle Montferrand 5 M Rowley Pontypridd

R Castel Beziers 6 S Williams Neath

F Pelous Dax 8 S Quinnell Richmond

A Benazzi Agen, capt 7 C Charvis Swansea

Referee: P Marshall (Aus). Kick-off: 2.0 (BBC Wales 2.0).

Replacements: 16 S Viars (Brive), 17 D Aucagne (Pau), 18 G Accoceberry (Begles Bordeaux), 19 O Magne (Dax), 20 P Triep- Capdeville (Pau), 21 M de Rougemont (Toulon).

Replacements: 16 J Davies (Cardiff), 17 P John (Pontypridd), 18 P Arnold (Swansea), 19 H Taylor (Cardiff), 20 L Mustoe (Cardiff), 21 G Jenkins (Swansea).

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