THERE have been many cruel disappointments this season, and in the last 10 minutes it looked as though Wales might suffer the cruellest of all as they strove to cling to the last two points of what had been, only moments before, a 14-point lead. Thierry Lacroix, with a long penalty kick, and Alain Penaud, with a drop at goal, failed to snatch it for France. But desperately running every scrap of possession, the French still looked dangerous, and the Welsh crowd, pessimists by nature, could hardly bear to watch.
Then in the 79th minute, a moment of relief as Scott Quinnell, who had played a towering game at No 8, intercepted the ball beyond the skirmish as the French looked for an opening, and fed it out to Nigel Walker. The left wing needed no prompting. He was off like a greyhound down the touchline to score in the corner. Neil Jenkins made a fine conversion, and the danger was past.
Wales, the underdogs, had scored their third championship victory. And now in the match against England in four weeks' time they will play not only for the Triple Crown but the Grand Slam. And how well they deserve it for their resilience, their opportunism and their solid defence when the game had turned against them.
The side had run out wearing green socks with their otherwise red strip, the better to avoid being mistaken for the French with their red socks in the legally grey areas of the rucks. An ingenious precaution. But they could do nothing about the weather, which, instead of being helpfully cold and wet, had just turned grey and clammy. Or about the awesome size of the French forwards and the exuberance of their backs, who came on like a troupe of tumblers.
But in the fourth minute Quinnell robbed France at the line-out and charged through with Phil Davies to carry on the move. But when Davies was halted, Philippe Benetton went down on the wrong side of the ball, and Neil Jenkins opened the scoring with a penalty from the far right.
Their lead lasted for only five minutes, for, having missed once from long range, Lacroix replied with a simple penalty after Wales went offside. Quinnell was soon in the action at the back of the line-out, taking the ball cleanly and beginning a marvellous run to the French line in which he brushed aside two attempted tackles, checked, feinted to run inside and then pressed on again to reach across for a try, his first in an international. Jenkins hit the near post with his conversion kick, but fortunately for Wales Lacroix missed with another penalty kick and a drop at goal.
Territorially, the Welsh side were being overrun for long spells, but their cover was unflinching, and they were next to score just before the half-hour. In a rare raid they panicked France into killing the ball, and from 45 metres Jenkins kicked a confident penalty to make it 11-3. And although shortly afterwards he narrowly missed another long attempt, the imaginary little black box into which he packs his troubles seemed to be working its magic.
There the score remained at half-time, with Wales turning to play with the brisk wind behind them. Within four minutes of the restart Quinnell made another break, and then John Davies followed up Jenkins's kick ahead - both pressure points bringing offside moves from the French and two more penalties from Jenkins.
Wales were now counter-
attacking at every chance, though to remind them that this was their old prerogative, the French dealt repeated blows with their massed ranks of forwards. From the first, Olivier Roumat went over for a try beneath a heap of players. The second Wales managed to bustle away. The third, ending with a line-out on the Welsh line, brought a try between the posts from Sella, which Lacroix converted. Within six minutes a 14- point lead had dwindled to two points.
As the French gathered their forces for a last decisive attack, all but the 15 Welsh players on the field saw defeat coming. But Quinnell and Walker expressed the new spirit in the Welsh side, and they dared to believe and achieve the impossible.
Wales: Tries Quinnell, Walker; Conversion N Jenkins; Penalties N Jenkins 4. France: Tries Roumat, Sella; Conversion Lacroix; Penalty Lacroix.
WALES: M Rayer; S Hill, M Hall (all Cardiff), A Clement (Swansea), N Walker (Cardiff); N Jenkins (Pontypridd), R Moon; R Evans (both Llanelli), G Jenkins (Swansea), J Davies (Neath), P Davies (Llanelli), G O Llewellyn (Neath, capt), E Lewis, S Quinnell, M Perego (all Llanelli).
FRANCE: J-L Sadourny (Colomiers); E N'tamack (Toulouse), P Sella (Agen), T Lacroix (Dax), P Saint-Andre (Montferrand); A Penaud (Brive), F Galthie (Colomiers); L Armary (Lourdes), J-M Gonzales (Bayonne), P Gallart (Beziers), O Merle (Grenoble), O Roumat (Dax, capt), P Benetton (Agen), M Cecillon (Bourgoin), A Benazzi (Agen).
Referee: L McLachlan (New Zealand).
Clem Thomas, page 7Reuse content