For 50 minutes in Nantes yesterday, Wales' worst nightmare was unfolding before their disbelieving eyes as Canada charged to what would have been one of the biggest shocks in the World Cup's history. But then on came Stephen Jones and the day was saved. So, it may prove, was the job of Gareth Jenkins.
To be fair to the Welsh coach, it was his decisive action that effected this most dramatic of turnarounds. Not only was the Scarlets fly-half brought on, for the hapless James Hook, but so too was the squad's captain, Gareth Thomas. Between them the old boys breathed new life into a challenge that was all but dead and buried when the inspired Canucks went eight points up just after half-time.
Afterwards, a clearly relieved Jenkins acknowledged the pair's contribution, which shone out in a startling spell during which Wales scored five unanswered tries in a quarter of an hour. In the 52nd minute the scoreline was 17-9 to Canada; in the 67th it was 42-17. Everything changed and everyone knew why.
"Within the group we've all come to realise what a quality player Stephen is," said Jenkins, "and he displayed that out there today. He brought a real clarity and confidence and altered the whole tone. He gave us a real energy."
Indeed he did, for it was not just the manner in which Jones suddenly got the Welsh runners moving – in the right direction – but also how he upped the intensity of the team. As soon as he ran out the 29-year-old, who had not played in more than four months after sustaining a hip injury in training, was screaming at team-mates, slapping backs and generally being very un-Jones-like. It meant a great deal to him.
"There's been a lot said about me," he said, obviously tempted to tell his critics where to put their doubts. "At one stage, I thought I might miss the World Cup. That's what made this was so enjoyable."
His experience was in direct contrast to that of Hook, the young hope of Wales who suffered the lowest moment in his short international career. Jones could see where the 22-year-old was going wrong, although he was not about to point any fingers.
"On the pitch it is sometimes very hard to see what is happening, but as a sub you can see the way they're defending and what have you and take that knowledge out there," he said. "I just wanted to get our forwards involved in the game a little bit wider. We have a very talented pack with the ball in hand and it was my aim to get us playing to our strengths."
It is fair to say that in an awful first-half Wales played to Canada's strengths. Not all of the blame can be laid at the feet of Hook, or even close to it, as quite frankly Wales barely had the ball in that first 40. The stats said the underdogs had enjoyed 64 per cent of the possession and were almost as commanding on the territorial charts.
If anything they were better value than their lead of 12-9 at the interval, as they fought back from three early Hook penalties with two tries. The first came ominously easily when the rampant blind-side flanker, Jamie Cudmore, piled over the Welsh defence in the 25th minute. But the red faces glowed even brighter 10 minutes later when Craig Culpan touched down after running the length of the pitch.
It was Hook who supplied the pass to the grateful centre just as Wales appeared certain to score, with a three-man overlap and gaping holes ahead. In the midst of that shambolic give-away the memories of past Welsh World Cup humiliations, principally to Samoans, came flooding back and when the excellent Canada scrum-half Morgan Williams crashed over to extend the advantage in the 45th minute, Jenkins decided to act. It was then or likely never, as far as he was concerned.
With Jones in harness and with the ball suddenly being whipped out to the danger men such as Tom Shanklin, Thomas and any number of the transformed forwards, Wales went ballistic. Sonny Parker struck first, Jones's conversion narrowing the gap to a point, and then followed Alun-Wyn Jones, Colin Charvis and Shane Williams (twice). In fact, the damage could have been even greater if Williams had not bizarrely fumbled in the process of putting Thomas clear.
As it was, the Canadians fought back and might even have added a response late on. Not to worry, their coach Ric Suggitt did instead, targeting those who have called for a two-tier World Cup. "We showed today we can compete with the top nations," he said.
"The naysayers who talk about the segregation can go and stuff themselves." Jenkins and Jones would say amen to that.
Wales: K Morgan (Newport-Gwent Dragons); M Jones (Llanelli Scarlets), T Shanklin (Cardiff Blues), S Parker (Ospreys), S Williams (Ospreys); J Hook (Ospreys), D Peel (Scarlets, capt); G Jenkins (Blues), M Rees (Scarlets), A Jones (Ospreys), I Gough (Ospreys), A-W Jones (Ospreys), J Thomas (Ospreys), M Williams (Blues), A Popham (Scarlets). Replacements: T Rhys Thomas (Blues), D Jones (Ospreys), M Owen (Dragons), C Charvis (Dragons), M Phillips (Ospreys), S Jones (Scarlets), G Thomas (Blues).
Canada: M Pyke (Montauban); D van der Merwe (James Bay), C Culpan (Meraloma), D Spicer (University of Victoria), J Pritchard (Bedford); A Monro (Waterloo), M Williams (Albi, capt); R Snow (St John's Dogs), P Riordan (Burnaby Lake), J Thiel (Bayside), L Tait (Overmach Parma), M James (Stade Français), J Cudmore (Clermont), D Biddle (Meraloma), S-M Stephen (Beziers). Replacements: A Carpenter (Brantford), D Pletch (Oakville Crusaders), M Pletch (Oakville Crusaders), M Burak (Pau), C Yukes (Agen), E Fairhurst (Cornish Pirates), R Smith (Montauban).
Referee: A Rolland (Ireland)Reuse content