Dragons make party
October 1, 1999

It began with a rendition of `International Velvet' from rock group Catatonia and a quite spectacular opening ceremony.
There followed a performance from Wales which was a long way from being as smooth as the title of the song.
But at least Wales' 23-18 victory got the fourth Rugby World Cup under way in Cardiff today with a flourish.
And the sigh of relief from the tournament organisers matched the gale which howled down the River Taff this afternoon.
Defeat would have seen the World Cup lose its hosts _ and it has to be said Wales today were the perfect hosts.
Shirley Bassey, in sequined gown with dragon motif, gave a fabulous rendition of the tournament's theme tune `World in Union'.
The Army abseiled spectacularly, as the retractable roof in the magnificent Millennium Stadium _ the largest enclosed area on the planet _ drew back serenely on Prince Charles' command to reveal the slate grey skies of Wales' capital city.
And the Red Arrows arrived bang on cue for a spectacular fly-past. As build-ups go it had all the precision and panache of a space launch.
Pity then that Wales never quite fired the rockets of which they are capable in a match which, despite their three victories over Argentina this year, always had the potential for an opening shock.
In truth, the margins of those triumphs and the manner of victory had been somewhat flattering to the Welsh.
But perhaps we could forgive Wales a slow start after the emotion and euphoria which had accompanied the pre-match march of legends such as Gareth Edwards, Barry John and JPR Williams into the stadium.
The 72,500 crowd had been further pumped up by action replays of great Welsh moments of the past and after seeing Edwards score that wonder try for the Barbarians against the All Blacks on the jumbo screen, it has to be said the first-half action had the texture of sackcloth _ ragged, rough around the edges, never comfortable and threatening to leave an ugly weal on Welsh hopes.
It was not until Mark Taylor finished off a flowing move involving Dafydd James and Gareth Thomas that we got a glimpse of the new Wales _ the Wales that has been nurtured and improved over these past 15 months to such an extent that some experts even believe they could reach the final.
For that, of course, they have to thank New Zealand. Antipodean exiles are sprinkled around this World Cup like discarded betting slips on Derby day.
Six New Zealanders alone are in the Japan set-up, more playing for Samoa, Ireland and Scotland and two, in the shape of Brett Sinkinson and Shane Howarth, in the Welsh starting line-up today.
But outside the All Blacks there can be no more important Kiwi than Wales coach Graham Henry.
Since his appointment a year last June Welsh rugby has undergone a rejuvenation of startling and heart-warming proportions.
Eight successive victories had rekindled memories of those legendary grand slam days of the 1970s.
Today's made it nine and if the action was not always pretty, it was at least bolstered with lashings of pride and passion.
Henry has certainly encouraged style in this Welsh team, though a wet, nervy day was maybe not the best occasion on which to judge that commodity.
More than that, however, he has added steel with Super 12 stars Sinkinson and Peter Rogers the epitome of experience and courage.
There was also the sight of Aussie Jason Jones-Hughes, the subject of a battle between Wales and Australia for his services, coming on for Scott Gibbs in the 58th minute and putting in the sort of ferocious tackles which win World Cups.
In the end Wales once again relied on the goal-kicking genius of Jenkins, his 15 points taking him within 18 of breaking Michael Lynagh's world record and proving how indispensable he is to the Welsh cause.
There is, of course, a long way to go and this victory was far too close and flawed to talk of Wales as potential champions.
But, unencumbered by an occasion which felt like a World Cup final rather than an opening salvo, they can only get better.
Improvement should take them at least as far as the quarter-finals, where their likely opponents are Australia.
There was little on show today to suggest they will cross that bridge. As hosts of rugby's biggest party, however, the red dragon breathed a warm glow over this World Cup.

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