Wales lift a great weight

Clem Thomas in Cardiff witnesses a victory for resolution over the French
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The Independent Online
AT THE the final whistle, the relief was such that the Welsh crowd greeted this incredible win as though it were a Grand Slam. Indeed, Wales were never in greater need of a victory - before this game they had reached the lowest point in their history, having lost their last eight Five Nations matches, and they stared a second successive wooden spoon and a whitewash straight in the face.

It has been evident all season that they are a better side than they at first appear and, although they have been losing, they have nevertheless gained the respect of their opponents for their attitude and style of play.

Now at last there is a glimmer of hope for the future and Wales can go to Australia this summer with some credibility and more confidence. As the Welsh captain, Jonathan Humphreys, said after the match: "We have just beaten the best team in Europe. We now know that we can beat the best and this will be our turning point."

The win might have been more definitive but for leaving a flank totally exposed, which allowed the French to counter-attack and score a try from their own 22 late in the first half. Wales should have led 10-0 at half- time and the French score was typical of their naivety, for the psychological difference between 10-0 and 10-5 at half-time is huge.

In every other respect during the first half, Wales gave a tremendous account of themselves and disconcerted the French by the ferocity of their drive in the rucks and their power in the mauls. It was clear that the French had done their homework and were expecting the Welsh to run. Consequently, they operated a swarm defence in midfield which Wales had great difficulty in breaking. Nigel Davies, who had a fine match, still managed to penetrate, but the French cover was usually his equal.

It needed a terrific arcing run by Robert Howley, who had asplendid match both in his probing from the base of the scrum and in his all-round game, to show Wales that they could win the game. One must assume that France had also studied Howley, so his effectiveness was doubly commendable.

Perhaps the basic French problem was that although they yielded little physically, they constantly conceded penalties for their indisciplines to put themselves on the back foot.

For the first time this season Wales, who have tended to concede the second half, particularly the last quarter, kept their foot firmly on the throttle. Although their fallibility showed 13 minutes from the end when they conceded a try to the genius of Emile Ntamack who, with his first opportunity, showed his great knack of scoring with speed off the mark and a ghosting run.

However, Wales were given another, final opportunity to win the match when the French backs, who had gambled all afternoon with the offside law, took out the Welsh centres under their posts. France deserved to lose, if only for their indiscipline, for a few minutes earlier a high tackle and more wickedness by Jean-Marie Gonzales from an offside position had escaped retribution.

The game, although it promised so much, never lived up to its reputation and was certainly no classic, but it afforded great relief to Welsh rugby.