Five Nations 1999
Wales hang on for memorable win
March 6, 1999
Dafydd James is congratulated after crossing to score in Paris
© Getty Images
Wales turned the Five Nations inside out as they won in Paris for the first time in 24 years.
Again, a last minute penalty miss settled a French match. But this time, France were on the receiving end as Thomas Castaignede pulled his kick wide and a giant Welsh roar greeted referee Jim Fleming's final whistle.
This was as tight and exhilarating as France's victory in Dublin but totally different in style. While the second half never recaptured the extraordinary fireworks of the five try first half, this was a glorious advertisement for international rugby, the most gripping proof yet that this is the most competitive Five Nations in years.
Wales displayed the attacking brilliance that flickered briefly against Ireland at Wembley, but eliminated the bulk of the errors that ensured their defeats by Ireland and Scotland. France, as ever were magnificent with the ball in hand, but trailed for all but seven minutes, leaving full back N'Tamack as one of the few players to have scored an international hat-trick and still lost.
In an extraodinary first half, Wales scored more points in 35 minutes than they have managed in an entire Five nations clash with France since 1914.With both sides prepared to attack from anywhere, and neither defence capable of sustained resistance, the first half saw an endless succession of lightning strikes from midfield or even deeper.
Vulnerable so far this season to the early score, Wales this time seized a quick 10 point lead, and it might have been more. Neil Jenkins set the tone. Taking rapid revenge for humiliation at Wembley last season, he dummied and surged past Castaignede, only to fail to find Gibbs when a try looked certain, but he made ammends with a penalty when France took the ensuing scrum down.
Four minutes later, Wales were ten points clear as Howley broke from a line out and Charvis drove over for Jenkins to convert. But France struck back immediately. They broke from halfway, Comba kicked ahead and N'Tamack beat the cover to score. The same move worked again midway through the half with France six points down after Jenkins had added two penalties to Castaignede's one to France. Comba again kicked ahead, Robinson fumbled and N'Tamack pounced to score in the corner. Castaignede missed the conversion, but took France ahead for the first time with a penalty on the half hour.
Wales hit back with two spectacular tries in the next five minutes. James crossed on the left after Taylor's surge down the middle had sucked in several French defenders, then Craig Quinnell completed a stunning 80 yard multiple phase move, started by a typical Howarth break and Wales lead 28-18 at the break.
The extraodinary momentum perhaps inevitably slowed after half time as midfield defenses tightened. Wales could have pulled further clear but Jenkins uncharacteristically missed three penalties in the space of seven minutes. Instead, France drew level. N'Tamack again combined with Comba to start and finish a move begun on half way. Castaignede kicked the conversion then levelled the scores on 57 minutes with a penalty.
Wales lost skipper Robert Howley injured shortly afterwards, but scarcely missed a beat as Jenkins kicked them into the lead again, only for Castaignede to strike an apparently decisive blow ten minutes from time when a multiple overlap allowed him to score in the right hand corner.
But his failure with the conversion meant that Jenkins was able to kick Wales back into the lead within four minutes. Wales then held on for one of their most extrodinary victories.