Saturday, March 15, 2008

Grand Slam For Wales

Six Nations Game 15 - Wales vs France (29-12)

Wales made their intentions clear from the start, and were pressing the French lines within five minutes. Then their opponents killed the ball, and James Hook [right] stepped up to take the penatly. First blood to the Welsh, 3-0. Hook had another go at goal in the 14th minute, which saile just wide of the posts.

The French were committing a lot of players to rucks, while Wales only used the minimum. David Skrela's kicking was pretty awful too - including one restart which actually went backwards!

The Welsh made a break in the 18th minute and Les Bleus found themselves offside. Hook stepped up for another punt which went plumb through the middle, 6-0 up.

In the next minute, Wales themselves were penalised, France took the penalty by Jean-Baptiste Elissalde, and they were back in it at 6-3. They gave it away again a few minutes later when Julien Bonnaire was caught monumentally offside at a ruck, Hook made it 9-3.

On the half hour, France made decent inroads into the Welsh half. They recycled several times, inching their way upfield. 10,000 French supporters chanted "Allez Les Bleus!" but they couldn't turn possession into points.

Just before half time, Gavin Henson [left] was pinged for a high tackle on Fulgence Ouedraogo and went to the bin. The penalty kick from Elissalde was easy, and so Wales went in 9-6 at the break, but with the prospect of starting the second half with only 14 men.

The French came out with all guns blazing, but tried to play too much rugby. They gave away a penalty very close to their own line. Hook took the kick from out wide; it wasn't quite on target.

Then Les Bleus were making ground again, but ferocious Welsh tackling kept their line firm. Gethin Jenkins clashed heads with a Frenchman and France won another penalty - Elisslade levelled the score at 9-9.

Henson returned a minute or tow later, much to the relief of the crowd. The Welsh were desperate for some possession in order to make headway. Shane Williams broke away, passed to Martyn Williams and worked upfield. France regained after a Welsh chip ahead.

In the 60th minute, the stadium erupted when France spilled the ball, and Shane Williams fell onto the ball just under the posts. It was his 41st try for Wales, making him the all-time try scorer for his country. The conversion by Stephen Jones [left] was a foregone conclusion - and Wales were 16-9 up.

The Welsh were fired up now, three minutes later they won a penalty 37m out from the posts. Jones' kick was good again and Wales were 19-9 up.

France's Vincent Clerc made a break and the Welsh fumbled their defence. France got the put in at a 10m scrum. But the Welsh forwards weren't buckling - they won the scrum against the head.

With almost 10 minute left, Wales gave away another penalty; Dmitri Yachvili on as a replacement, kicked the three points and it was 19-12. Not long after, Stephen Jones eroded the difference again with another penalty and Wales clawed back their 10 point advantage, 22-12.

The final nail in the French coffin came with only 5 minutes left on the clock. Mark Jones broke away and flew up the pitch to within 1m of the French line. France scrambled the defence, a bit of ping-pong, then Lee Byrne caught a phenomenal up-and-under. Martyn Williams [right] did the honours with a 20m run to slide under the posts. Stephen Jones conversion were a formality. Wales 29-12.

The last three minutes were filled with noise from their supporters. A well-deserved victory for Wales, and a great achievement to win the Grand Slam again. They have played some excellent rugby throughout the tournament and fully deserve their title. Remarkably, they only conceded 2 tries in their 5 matches this year. And what a turnaround from their lacklustre World Cup campaign a few months ago.

The ref blew up for full time and the stadium roof almost lifted off with the noise. Well done Wales.

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