In 1992 Vanessa Williams sang “Sometimes the snow comes down in June, Sometimes the sun goes ’round the moon, Just when I thought our chance had passed, you go and save the best for last”. Well it wasn’t June, but the snow came down, and so it was for Wales and France, saving the best for last. What a competitive encounter.
It is widely recognised that comparisons are odious, but we had, at Twickenham, an hour or so earlier a game that a grand slam hinged on that was played like a fight for second place, and later on, in Cardiff, we observed a fight for second place that seemed like a Grand Slam decider. At the final round, both Wales and France stepped up to the plate and gave us a game that was quite simply absorbing in all its aspects.
The intensity, ferocity and pace that both sides injected into the game took most observers’ breath away, from the kick off to the final whistle it was compulsive viewing, with the result in balance for the whole contest. The naysayers and the know-betters will contend that it was a mediocre contest due to the flat patches and errors that inhabited the game. This observer says not. OK, Wales didn’t trouble the scorer in the second half but they tackled and defended like demons, and when the game is of such pace, how can mistakes not be made? In any case, winning ugly in some instances can be a thing of immense beauty to rugby connoisseurs. This was one of those instances.
The game started well for the French ten, Francois Trinh-Duc, when he beautifully dropped a goal in the fourth minute, he immediately was heroing to zeroing when after French disarray at the restart, (don’t they know the rules), they left the ball hanging in the air for Alun-Wyn Jones to pluck from them and start the attack that lead to Liam Williams’ try. A chip ahead from Scott Williams took a bounce and Trinh-Duc looked like he was hailing a taxi in an awkward attempt to gather which left Williams with a simple catch and dive over the line. Two Leigh Halfpenny penalties made it 11-3 to Wales. After an inside pass from Fickou a smart catch and turn by Pelisse set up the opportunity, after an interchange of passes, for Fickou to receive the ball and bisect the Welsh defence to cross for a try which Machenaud converted, 11-10 to Wales. A further penalty from Halfpenny made it 14-10 at halftime.
The second half was strictly for the purists but as previously referred to it was truly a thing of beauty. A 48th-minute penalty again from Machenaud made it 14-13 and set up a nail-biting half hour or so for both sets of supporters. Wales defence held firm under huge French pressure, tackles flew in from all angles and at times it seemed an irresistible force v immovable object type of competition. In France, Trinh-Duc will probably be perceived as the villain of the piece after a botched penalty from hand rolled over the Welsh dead ball line and a missed penalty goal attempt which should have given the French the lead, but this is what happens in high intensity, high-pressure test matches.
Hadleigh Parkes would have learned that trying to run through a slimmed down, fitter Bastareaud (maybe he actually goes club training now) is as fruitless as a chestnut tree in winter, Alun-Wyn may have learned that endeavour commitment and bravery will win you man of the match in wars of attrition, but he probably knew that already.
A hugely enjoyable match in which the qualities that Alun-Wyn Jones showed were required and displayed by the whole Welsh team enabling them to squeeze a victory.
As they almost say in the USA, ‘Ain’t Rugby Great!’
By Ian Muir