Dominant France cruise past Wales
February 5, 2000
Thomas Castaignede breaks trhough the Welsh defence during a dominant French display
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So that year was a blip after all. France, under new management, are back as the most formidable team in European rugby, demolishing a vapid Welsh challenge with intimidating ease.
After a lively Welsh start, France took complete control in all phases. While they didn't cross the Welsh line until the 55th minute the warning signs were there by the end of a second quarter in which Wales rarely escaped from their own half. The Millenium Stadium, proclaimed a Welsh fortress during their winning run last year, now looks much less formidable after three straight comprehensive defeats. This humiliation follows losses to Samoa and Australia in the World Cup.
Graham Henry has been consistently faithfull to his chosen group of players. He didn't panic after similarly depressing beatings by Ireland at Wembley last season. But few of this team can feel certain of selection for the visit of Italy in two weeks time. Only Neath wing Shane Williams and Ebbw Vale scrum half Richard Smith, given their first caps as replacements in the last few minutes, will remember this afternoon with any pleasure. Always in control after the first 15 minutes, France drove home their advantage with two tries in 2 minutes just before the hour.
Thomas Castaignede first launched a long range counter attack, then appeared again to surge for the line and pop the ball up for the supporting Olivier Magne as the hopelessly outnumbered Shane Howarth tackled. Then Magne returned the compliment, surging past Jason Jones-Hughes in midfield to link with Christophe Dominici, whose pass sent Castaignede over. Emile Ntamack , back to his favoured position of wing in a French team that looked infinitely more cohesive than the 1999 edition , completed the rout with an unopposed 35 yards to the line in injury time.
Wales had started well with their backs showing signs of the creative vivacity absent during their World Cup campaign. In the seventh minute Neil Jenkins, whose running in the corresponding match in Paris last season was such a revelation, made a clean break on the French 22 then found Dafydd James charging up in support. James, who has all the attributes of a world class wing except blinding pace, was caught up by this single limitation and taken down a yard from the line. Five minutes later Jenkins kicked Wales into the lead with a 45 minute penalty, but this was to be their high point. France progressively took control disrupting Wales at the lineout and putting them under such pressure at the breakdown that their early rhythm was never recaptured .
Christophe Lamaison levelled the scores with a neatly taken drop goal after 23 minutes, then added two more penalties as the France took full control in the second quarter. It could have been worse for Wales but ferocious goal-line tackling followed by some outstanding defensive scrummaging kept the French at bay after skipper Fabien Pelous instructed Lamaison to kick to the corner rather than try a kickable penalty just before the half hour.