Jonathan Davies: Phillips points towards a brighter tomorrow

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The Independent Online

So France got their Six Nations title back and Wales recovered some dignity. Everybody left the Millennium Stadium content, or at least not in tears, and for the home side in particular this was as much as could be expected after a season when the whole nation has been knocked sideways.

But, in hindsight, Wales could and should have won this match. They had enough opportunities in the first half to put France away and when they look back with some measure of pride at this much improved performance they will still undoubtedly rue the missed chances.

Michael Phillips, for one, will wonder how he ended up on the losing side. Dwayne Peel's replacement was simply immense at No 9 and was easily the best player in Wales's best display of the championship. If only some of his team-mates had shown the same awareness he did when breaking the French line on at least four occasions, then a famous win would surely have been theirs. But every time Phillips burst through there was nobody supporting him and the moment went begging.

Wales's lack of decent support play was one of the main factors in France being able to steal their victory. Hal Luscombe's fine try in the first half was one of the few times when Wales did get it right and the manner in which the centre made himself available to Shane Williams should be played back on the tapes until the squad is sick of watching it.

But I was also disappointed by the way Wales conceded France's decisive try. Gavin Henson was defending on the touchline and it was left for Martyn Williams to cover. That is not a flanker's job.

Saying all that, though, this was a day for Welsh optimism, not pessimism. Alix Popham was a huge plus point in the back row as the Welsh forwards at last found some "go forward". In contrast to the rest of their games, they competed extremely effectively at the contact area and by crossing the gain line and providing quick ball, the backs were given the platform they have been desperate for. In the main, they defended very nicely, too.

So yes, there were plenty of positives to be gleaned and with so many front-liners to come back from injury, Wales will be much stronger next season. The players showed what they are capable of and I just hope that when the new coach is appointed - whoever that may be - that they then stick to doing what they're good at, which is simply playing rugby.

Although there has been a sense of doom and gloom in the country since "Ruddockgate" and all that, the situation is not beyond rescue. The talent is there; it just needs harnessing.

The same is true for France, of course. Although they were worthy winners of this Six Nations I do not think they have been that convincing. In fact, a tournament that has been a bit flat was aptly won by a team who were a bit flat yesterday. They will be a much different side when Yannick Jauzion comes back, however, and I fully expect them to raise their game for next year's World Cup. Intensity was lacking yesterday and it is inconceivable that will be so when they are gunning for the Webb Ellis Cup on home soil.

In fairness to this display, though, they did show that classic attribute of a good team - ie: winning when they are playing badly - and Bernard Laporte will take a lot from their ability to hang in there and act decisively when the sniff of a victory presented itself.

Still, the final term's report for both these sides should read: "Can do better. Should do better. Probably will do better."

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