Wales had already beaten England and Italy in this year’s Six Nations, but to nail a major scalp away from home indicated to Jones that this side have finally emerged from the shadows of 2003.
Two years ago Wales failed to win a single Six Nations game. In 2002 they had managed only a win over Italy in what was a dark time for Welsh rugby. But amid all the gloom and doom, Steve Hansen, then Wales coach, was working hard to ensure the long-term future of the side was bright. That work, which has been continued by Mike Ruddock, is now bearing fruit.
Jones turned in a commanding display at fly-half, directing Wales on a dramatic second-half fightback as they overturned a 15-6 deficit. He scored 14 points, including a drop goal eight minutes from time which opened a six-point cushion and forced France to push for the converted try.
“It’s right up there in terms of the best wins of my career,” Jones said. “The first half was very difficult for us. They kept going forward and we couldn’t get near them. So the manner in which we came back had everything that epitomised the team spirit. We kept the belief in our gameplan, and we played better rugby than we did against England,” he said
Martyn Williams rated the stunning victory as a bigger achievement than their win over England: “We have been good at home but we have struggled away against the big sides. I think it is a big step up for us to beat one of the top five sides away from home.”
“We were down and out, came back and then had to hold out at the end. Everyone pulled together. We have an awesome squad now. It has been a long building period. For three years we have been looking at this championship and it is nice to be part of it.
Not since the glory days of JPR Williams, Gerald Davies et al in 1978 have Wales won a grand slam. They are now in a prime position to do so for the first time in 27 long years, with a trip to Scotland and then Ireland at home to come. “We know what it is going to be like back home, everyone will just take Scotland for granted but there is no way we will do that as a squad,” Williams said.
In five second half minutes, Wales turned the game on its head. France, after two one-dimensional performances, suddenly opened up and charged into a 12-0 lead in as many minutes. Only desperate scramble defence from Wales limited the score to 15-6 at the interval, but France had played magnificent rugby.
At the death France, chasing the converted try to win the game, turned the screw. But Wales held out through four titanic scrums on their own line.
France shrugged off the defeat by insisting their priority was to build a team for the 2007 World Cup. “It wouldn’t have been a scandal if we had won the game, though hats off to the Welsh for their performance. Nothing has been lost and there is everything to play for in our next match with Ireland in Dublin,” said manager Jo Maso.
: Laharrague, Rougerie, Jauzion, Traille, Dominici, Delaigue, Yachvili, Marconnet, Bruno, Mas, Pelous, Thion, Betsen, Nyanga, Bonnaire.
: Grandclaude for Traille (46), Michalak for Delaigue (49), Servat for Bruno (41), Milloud for Mas (49), Lamboley for Thion (74), Harinordoquy for Bonnaire (59).
: G. Thomas, Morgan, Shanklin, Henson, S. Williams, S. Jones, Peel, Jenkins, Davies, A. Jones, Cockbain, Sidoli, R. Jones, M. Williams, Owen.
: R. Williams for G. Thomas (41), Sweeney for Morgan (53), Cooper for Peel (67), McBryde for Davies (64), Yapp for A. Jones (67), J. Thomas for R. Jones (77).
: Paul Honnis (New Zealand).