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They will be the first Welsh front and back row players to do so in post-war championships, three forwards from the first half of the 21st century matching three backs from the second half of the 20th. Davies, Edwards and JPR clinched their Slam treble against France, then their perennial last match in the Five Nations days long before anyone came up with the idea of rotating the fixtures.
Wales with the mystical Barry John at No.10 won in Paris in 1971, then at home in unforgettable duels in 1976 and again two years later when the French pack bulged with some of the toughest hombres the game has known. Robert Paparemborde, alias ‘The Bear of the Pyrenees,’ propped on one side of the scrum, Gerard Cholley, an amateur heavyweight boxer, on the other with the fearsome Michel Palmie in the second row.
On both occasions, France were also playing for the Slam. Their hopes of doing so again vanished with the home draw against Ireland before England, rejuvenated under Stuart Lancaster’s supervision, went one better in presenting the kingmakers at the RFU with a mightily persuasive case for appointing their interim head coach on a permanent basis through to the World Cup in 2015.
The last time Wales beat France in a Grand Slam decider, in Cardiff four years ago, the visitors finished third which is just about the best they can hope for with nothing more than a draw to show for successive home matches. While nobody can dispute their right to be challenging for the supreme prize, Wales will be praying that history does not repeat itself.
In March 1988, towards the end of a season when they lost to the All Blacks at Eden Park in the first World Cup final, France under Daniel Dubroca went to Cardiff and derailed a Welsh Slam by a single point, 10-9. On Saturday Les Bleus will be back where they were then, a few months after losing to the All Blacks at Eden Park in the second World Cup final to be staged there.
The French have been hit by injuries, just as they were 24 years ago when Jean-Patrick Lescarboura and Jean-Baptiste Lafond started their first internationals for two years in place of fly half Didier Camberabero and right wing Philippe Berot respectively. Lescarboura scored the only French try and Lafond kicked two penalties, one more than Paul Thorburn managed for Wales.
The leaders will be wary lest France save their best for last, as they did at the World Cup. Dimitri Yachvili’s inevitable recall as a scrum-half par excellence who doubles up as a match-winning goalkicker can be guaranteed to increase the tension in Wales, something which ought to be offset by Sam Warburton’s recovery from the knee trouble which made him a conspicuous non-starter against Italy last Saturday.
It would take a calamity on the scale of the 1967 Grand National which gave the 100-1 no-hoper Foinavon a clear run home for the title of European champions to go anywhere else. In winning four out of four with and without their captain, Wales have built a points-difference superiority which means they would have to lose to France by 20 and England beat Ireland at Twickenham by the same equally improbable margin for the trophy to be whisked from Cardiff to London.
An Irish win at HQ, where they have of course won on three of their last four visits, would give Wales the title even if they came a cropper over the final hurdle. They will settle for nothing less than the Slam as confirmation of their pre-eminence in Europe after their anti-climactic finish at the penultimate stage of the World Cup when they know they ought to have made it to the final in spite of Warburton’s red card.
England, in some disarray three months ago to put it mildly, showed at the Stade de France on Sunday afternoon that they have rediscovered the art of winning tight matches. Having gone close against Wales, they deservedly won another thriller and if they went within a last-minute drop shot of losing it, the try count left no doubt that justice had been done.
Three English tries to one, capped by Tom Croft’s masterpiece after Manu Tuilagi’s long-distance strike and Ben Morgan’s burst for Ben Foden to touch down the second, added up to the most emphatic tally in Paris since they scored four at the Parc des Princes in 1991. Then they had the advantage of playing against 13 men after two-thirds of an anguished French front row, Vincent Moscato and Gregoire Lascube, had been sent off.
England, fortified by Owen Farrell’s fearless maturity behind a pack built on the solid front row foundation of Alex Corbisiero, Dylan Hartley and Dan Cole, will be braced for another severe test.
Four more tries in a convincing 32-14 home win over Scotland means they have scored more than anyone else with 13, as many as France and England combined. The total would have been higher still had the TMO, Giulio de Santis, not ruled out Tommy Bowe’s touchdown after he had been held up over the line by Graeme Morrison.
The tackle law does not apply when the ball-carrier is brought down in-goal. Bowe did ground the ball eventually only to be denied his sixth try of the tournament and a share of the record. Instead of the consolation of a five-metre scrum, Bowe got up to find himself penalised for a double movement after a lengthy wrestle before touching down.
So Scotland, despite a first-half try from the magnificent Richie Gray, head to Rome and the not unfamiliar scenario of a wooden spoon joust with Italy where they have lost on three of their last four visits. Another home win will allow Sergio Parisse to lift his team off the bottom and leave Scotland there instead for the first time since 2007.
Best Six Nations XV from last weekend
15. Rob Kearney (Ireland)
14. Alex Cuthbert (Wales)
13. Manu Tuilagi (England)
12. Jamie Roberts (Wales)
11. Andrew Trimble (Ireland)
10. Owen Farrell (England)
9. Eoin Reddan (Ireland)
1. Gethin Jenkins (Wales)
2. Rory Best (Ireland)
3. Dan Cole (England)
4. Richie Gray (Scotland)
5. Ian Evans (Wales)
6. Stephen Ferris (Ireland)
7. Tom Croft (England)
8. Imanol Harinordoquy (France)
Wales’ winning Grand Slam deciders against France:
March 15, 2008 at the Millennium Stadium:
Wales 29, France 12.
Wales: L Byrne; M Jones, T Shanklin, G Henson, S Williams; J Hook, M Phillips; G Jenkins, H Bennett, A Jones; I Gough, A-W Jones; J Thomas, R Jones, capt., M Williams. Substitutes used: D Jones, M Rees, S Jones, I Evans.
France: A Floch; V Clerc, Y Jauzion, D Traille, J Malzieu; D Skrela, J-B Elissalde; F Barcella, D Szarzewski, N Mas; L Nallet, capt., J Thion; T Dusautoir, J Bonnaire, F Ouedraogo. Substitutes used: W Servat, J-B Poux, E Vermeulen, D Yachvili, F Trinh-Duc, C Heymans, A Mela.
March 18, 1978 at Cardiff Arms Park:
Wales 16, France 7.
Wales: JPR Williams; JJ Williams, R Gravell, S Fenwick, G Evans; P Bennett, capt., G Edwards; A Faulkner, B Windsor, G Price; A Martin, G Wheel; J Squire, D Quinnell, T Cobner.
France: J-M Aguirre; D Bustaffa, R Bertranne, C Belascain, G Noves; B Vivies, J Gallion; G Cholley, A Paco, R Paparemborde; F Haget, M Palmie; J-P Rives, J-P Bastiat, capt., J-C Skrela.
March 6, 1976 at Cardiff Arms Park:
Wales19, France 13.
Wales: JPR Williams; G Davies, S Fenwick, R Gravell, JJ Williams; P Bennett, G Edwards; A Faulkner, B Windsor, G Price; G Wheel, A Martin; T David, M Davies, capt., T Evans. Replacement used: M Knill.
France: M Droitecourt; J-F Gourdon, R Bertranne, J Pecune, J-L Averous; J-P Romeu, J Fouroux, capt.; G Cholley, A Paco, R Paparemborde; J-F Imbernon, M Palmie; J-P Rives, J-P Bastiat, J-C Skrela. Replacement used: J-M Aguirre.
And one that got away:
March 19, 1988 at Cardiff Arms Park:
Wales9, France 10.
Wales: P Thorburn; I Evans, M Ring, B Bowen, capt., A Hadley; J Davies, R Jones; Staff Jones, I Watkins, D Young; P May, R Norster; R Phillips, P Moriarty, R Collins. Replacement used: G Webbe.
France: S Blanco; J-B Lafond, P Sella, M Andrieu, P Lagisquet; J-P Lescarboura, P Berbizier; L Armary, D Dubroca, capt., P Ondarts; A Lorieux, J Condom; M Cecillion, L Rodriguez, A Carminati.