France leave Welsh in a mess

31st Aug 2007, 10:37

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Essai! Pierre Mignoni scores for France

Essai! Pierre Mignoni scores for France

Wales failed to produce a pre-World Cup boost as they were crushed 34-7 by France in their Cardiff send-off on Sunday.

The desired performance from Wales heading into the Rugby World Cup was not forthcoming at the Millennium Stadium on Sunday, with the Welsh going down 7-34 at home to France in their final warm-up match.

The French defence remained virtually unbreachable to the last, bar James Hook's solo effort, but it was rarely tested by a lacklustre Welsh effort.

Wales coach Gareth Jenkins will now head into the tournament with a multitude of questions still unanswered, while Bernard Laporte can relax in the knowledge that his team is taking shape nicely.

To add injury to insult, Wales captain Gareth Thomas was stretchered off near the end, and his participation in the World Cup is now in doubt.

France rolled out in their 'change' strip of gleaming white (because, of course, red and blue are almost indistinguishable to the marketeers of modern rugby) and were almost bridal in their poise: they looked pretty, did what was expected of them and hardly broke sweat.

Moreover, white suits France's new approach. Gone is the attacking laissez-faire, that thirst for champagne rugby. In its place is an obsession with clean sheets, a near-impregnable defence that makes the Maginot Line look like a swing door. (Insert your own war-related joke here.)

Immensely unexciting though it is, France's new-found lust for defence bodes well for what lurks around the corner. Adventure has never flourished at the Rugby World Cup, and it's a fair assumption that the spoils will go to the side that concedes the least tries rather than the one that scores the most.

But that's not to say that Les Bleus have forgotten the way to the tryline, far from it. Four tries in Cardiff tells a tale in itself.

The French have spoken long and hard about the need to build confidence, and they made good on their bold intentions from the off. Cédric Heymans, a success at fullback, choose to run the kick-off out of his 22, igniting a flowing move that finally died - at the hands of a knock-on - on the Welsh line.

The crowd grew quieter still as Wales proceeded to lose their first line-out, and fell stony silent as Martyn Williams coughed off up a penalty for pawing at the ball whilst on the deck. Lionel Beauxis duly stepped up to open the scoring.

Wales bounced back well, stealing France's first line-out before mounting an energetic attack featuring some fine inter-passing between forwards and backs.

But France responded in kind - and more fluently - by returning a loose Welsh grubber at pace. The raid was arrested a metre short of the line, but a delicious pop-pass from Pierre Mignoni found Jérôme Thion, and the big lock drove over in the corner for France's first try. Beauxis converted and the visitors were in double figures with just 14 minutes played.

Wales continued to make life hard for themselves. They sensed that they might have an advantage out wide, but getting the ball out to their wings proved problematic, and the requisite gaps simply failed to materialise.

The effervescent opening fell a little flat in the second quarter of the game as Wales made a conscious effort to control the game on their terms.

The decision to fall back on Hook's boot won the locals more turf but put immense pressure on their wonky array of set-piece options.

Still, Hook's ability to keep the ball in front of his forwards afforded the Welsh a toe-hold on proceedings, and raids around the fringes - orchestrated and executed by the irrepressible Dwayne Peel - gave France some food for thought.