Fred and Ginger's joie de vivre puts Dragons a quick two steps from Grand Slam

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The Independent Online

A 20-something supporter of Welsh rugby has never had it so good. Wales, who last won the Grand Slam 27 years ago when the upwardly mobile were in a maternity ward, are three-fifths of the way to rediscovering their heritage.

Whether they can complete the incredible journey and beat Scotland in Edinburgh and Ireland in Cardiff remains to be seen, but on the evidence so far they are playing with a joie de vivre that would not only put France to shame but that was thought to have been dead and buried along with Old King Coal. The decades of decay, introspection, loss of identity and the recruitment of coaches from New Zealand are consigned to history. Like a great tenor who had rediscovered his voice, Wales are playing rugby again. Because of the ban on the advertising of alcohol in France, the Welsh had to change their jersey, sporting the logo Brawn, instead of their sponsors Brains, the name of a beer brewed in Cardiff.

The change was most inappropriate.

This Six Nations has lacked a spark but the South Wales electricity bard, Shane Williams in short, has supplied it. The little wing epitomises everything that is good and proper about Welsh rugby.

His ability to send his mullet one way and his opponents the other has given Wales a spring in their step. They could make a western about Shane. The first half confrontation between Williams and his opposite number, Aurélien Rougerie, back on the right wing after injury, was as one-sided as the play. Rougerie, with a considerable height and weight advantage, smashed over for France's second try after 12 minutes and Wales and Williams looked as if they were heading for the sort of day that required a black armband. The wake was cancelled as the Williams boys partied at the Moulin Rougerie.

A player from Clermont-Auvergne did have the last word, but it was not Rougerie. Stephen Jones, ex-Llanelli and now earning a baguette across the Channel, had one of his best games for Wales. Flaky against England in the opening encounter in Cardiff, he looked at home in Paris and it was not just his 14 points that did the trick.

The timing of his contribution was priceless. His second penalty in the last act of a first half that France dominated to the extent they spent 30 minutes in Wales' half was worth a lot more than three points. Trailing 12-0 and then 15-3, Wales came in from the cold at half-time adrift by only nine points when they looked as if they were going to be buried beneath an avalanche.

This, though, was a game of two half-backs. Yann Delaigue was looking pretty good, especially after he helped to create Rougerie's try, but after the Welsh legerdemain at the beginning of the second half that turned 15-6 into 15-18, France introduced Frédéric Michalak to the sort of applause that was a million decibels removed from the noise that accompanied the announcement of the name of the coach, Bernard Laporte, before the start. Michalak's drop goal after 62 minutes levelled the scores at 18-18 and France were looking for the coup de grâce. It came not from Michalak but Jones, who kicked another penalty in the 67th minute and a drop goal in the 74th.

Having had the last word of the first half he had the first of the second with a mazy run that took him in more directions than a Paris taxi driver and with Shane Williams performing like Fred Astaire down the left touchline, the climax of this stupendous counter-attack was the first of two tries for Martyn Williams, the world's most prominent red-head since Ginger Rogers. "What is fantastic about this,'' Stephen Jones said, "is that two years ago I was here, we lost and we were whitewashed. I'm just so proud to have come back and done this.''

The captain, Gareth Thomas, who was not at his best in the first half, did not appear for the second (broken thumb) and harsh as it may seem Wales did not miss him. Michael Owen assumed the captaincy and the No 8's first touch in the second half was to knock on a try-scoring pass when Wales were absolutely flying.

After the tumultuous role reversal the Red Dragon tracksuits were asked what on earth was said at half-time to ignite the revolution. "Well,'' Owen said, "I didn't actually say that much.'' Cue laughter. Owen then realised that the question had been directed at the coach, Mike Ruddock, who was wearing, and probably still is, a smile broader than the Arc de Triomphe.

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