Wales slam home message

Dragon firepower engulfs the French in epic Paris fightback
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The Independent Online

Three down, two to go. Wales remain on course for the Grand Slam after defeating France 24-18 before a spellbound crowd here yesterday. Quite how they managed it will be a talking point in the Principality, if not the capital of France, for as long as the game is played.

Three down, two to go. Wales remain on course for the Grand Slam after defeating France 24-18 before a spellbound crowd here yesterday. Quite how they managed it will be a talking point in the Principality, if not the capital of France, for as long as the game is played.

Wales, following victories over England and Italy, conceded two tries in the first 12 minutes, by which stage they were 12-0 down and heading for oblivion. France, revitalised by the inclusion of two devastating attackers in the full-back Julien Laharrague and the wing Aurélien Rougerie, created half a dozen clear-cut chances in the first half.

Apart from hanging on to their coat-tails there appeared little Wales could do to stem the blue tide. France created more chances in the first quarter here than in the entirety of their dour victories over Scotland and England. Dimitri Yachvili, the scrum-half who kicked England to defeat with six penalties, crossed for France's first try after five minutes, selling a dummy to Gavin Henson and darting through a gap. Seven minutes later Rougerie, who made his strength and weight advantage tell over his opposite number Shane Williams, crashed over and Wales appeared to be in disarray.

However, Stephen Jones kicked a couple of penalties, the second on the stroke of half-time when they trailed 15-6. Wales lost their captain Gareth Thomas with a suspected broken thumb and he was replaced in the second half by Rhys Williams but it was the other Williams boys who were at the heart of the great comeback.

Within five minutes of the second half Wales had swept into an astonishing lead with two tries from the flanker Martyn Williams and in both, Shane Williams played a leading role with a couple of devastating runs, during which he seemed to beat half the French team at least once. With 12 points in five minutes Wales hit the front 18-15.

The most extraordinary aspect of this turnaround is that it was almost as if the teams had swapped jerseys at half-time. France, understandably rattled by the revolution, brought on Frédéric Michalak 11 minutes into the second half and he immediately made his presence felt with a drop goal that levelled the scores at 18-18.

A moment of sanity was brought to the proceedings when Jones, in between Wales' glorious 15-man rugby, landed a penalty in the 65th minute and eight minutes later added a drop goal which gave his team a six-point cushion. They were not allowed to sit on it as France tried everything to salvage their own Grand Slam ambitions, but the thin red line refused to snap.

Explaining Wales' transformation, the coach Mike Ruddock said he had lectured his team at half-time on the three T's: turnovers, tackles and touch. "Those were the areas I was concerned with," he said.

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