Regal Welsh dethrone French pretenders

27th February 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Feb 26 (AFP) - Two tries early in the second-half by Wales flanker Martyn Williams inspired Wales to a thrilling 24-18 comeback victory ending France's reign as Six Nations Grand Slam holders and keeping alive the visitors hopes of a first Grand Slam since 1978 here on Saturday.

PARIS, Feb 26 (AFP) - Two tries early in the second-half by Wales flanker Martyn Williams inspired Wales to a thrilling 24-18 comeback victory ending France's reign as Six Nations Grand Slam holders and keeping alive the visitors hopes of a first Grand Slam since 1978 here on Saturday.

France also scored two tries through Dimitri Yachvili and Aurelien Rougerie but the Welsh refused to let go and turned a 15-0 deficit into a remarkable victory.

It will add further pressure on France coach Bernard Laporte, who was given warning of just how much he had fallen out of favour with the home supporters when he was booed when his name was called out prior to the match.

"It is just a special moment for us all," said Wales' man-of-the-match Stephen Jones who landed 14 of his team's points.

"Two years ago Wales didn't win a single Six Nations match but now we have worked hard and we are all very happy. It's a special camp to be involved in."

But the fly-half insisted there was no talk yet of a Grand Slam with two more games to go.

"We have some hard matches to come against some big opposition."

Laporte was given a dream start in the fifth minute by Yachvili, who changed direction and ran through a gap to touch down for only his second try in 17 tests and then added the conversion.

France's rediscovered flair produced a superb second try in the 13th minute as the previously pedestrian Yann Delaigue showed a clean pair of heels bursting through a huge gap in the Welsh defence.

Swift handling by Yannick Jauzion and debutant fullback Julien Laharrague released Rougerie, who bulldozed his way over in the corner for his 14th try in 34 tests.

The Welsh were wilting as wave after wave of French attacks hit them with Laharrague producing a stunning run and then Welsh captain Gareth Thomas saving them as Rougerie bore down on a loose ball.

Thanks to another poor throw-in by French hooker Sebastien Bruno - who had been known as the pizza thrower because of a nightmare performance on his international debut against Wales in 2002 - the Welsh at last penetrated the hosts defence in the 19th minute with Gavin Henson probing deep before Kevin Morgan chipped through but it was put into touch for a Welsh throw-in.

However they were rewarded when Stephen Jones slotted over a penalty to make the score 12-3.

France, though, hit back with only Gareth Thomas' cracking tackle on Damien Traille halting a certain try after the French centre had broken through the Welsh lines - however an infringement allowed Yachvili to convert a penalty for 15-3.

The French had an escape in the 28th minute when Martyn Williams was in the clear down the touchline and certain to score but referee Paul Honiss did not play the advantage and called him back for a Welsh scrum instead.

The Welsh, though, had the last laugh of the half as Stephen Jones landed a penalty to keep the visitors in touch at 15-6.

The Welsh made light of the failure of Gareth Thomas to return after half-time, with a suspected broken thumb, as Martyn Williams scored after a neat passing movement with Shane Williams producing a sleight of hand pass inside for the flanker to score for the second successive match.

Stephen Jones converted for 15-13.

Unbelievably Martyn Williams went over again for his seventh try in 53 tests after a short-tapped penalty with French captain Fabien Pelous unable to stop him as the visitors went into the lead for the first time at 18-15.

A quite enthralling match was now end-to-end stuff as Wales broke from their half and only a knock on by Robert Sidoli stopped another try, provoking Laporte to ring the changes as he sent on Jean-Philippe Grandclaude, Olivier Milloud and Frederic Michalak.

Bruno had already paid for his below par performance by being replaced by Grand Slam winning hooker William Servat at the break.

The French drew level thanks to a drop goal by Michalak after three desperate throws by hooker Mefin Davies led to Wales going from deep in enemy territory to back to their 22.

Davies was swiftly replaced by veteran Robin McBryde.

Stephen Jones restored Wales' lead with 14 minutes remaining with another penalty.

A brilliant breakout by replacement scrum-half Gareth Cooper led to Wales camping in the French 22 and they came away 24-18 in front as Stephen Jones dropped a goal under intense pressure from Michalak.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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