Wales silent on Edwards' row
After failing to douse the resurgent Gallic flames, Wales are now fighting a fire which could prove even more destructive.
The future of Shaun Edwards, the defence coach and right-hand man to Warren Gatland, is under scrutiny after he was suspended for an alleged fight with the team's sports scientist.
Rarely has a post-match inquiry focused so briefly on the heavy defeat. Indeed, the main point of discussion -- apart from the details of the altercation -- was to what extent Wales had been affected by the absence of Edwards, both from the build-up and the game.
As the WRU's media management dashed around the players advising them to toe the "no comment" line of this being "a private matter" a picture emerged of a camp on red alert. What they would admit was that Edwards and Fergus Connolly, the other member of staff involved in the fracas, did not travel to Paris.
Full-back Lee Byrne, let it slip that Edwards had not been involved in the final practice sessions for a game which saw Wales ship three tries, concede their heaviest Six Nations loss under Gatland and so slip from second to fourth in the final table.
If Gatland and the PR men believe that saying "we are dealing with the matter internally" will suffice, they have much to learn about the Welsh public and its media. They would be well advised to come clean about the incident and whatever recrimination followed, but will probably be forced to do exactly that after the next few days of rumour and intrigue. Already many are seeing the irony of Wales' reputation being threatened by a alleged bust-up involving an Englishman and Irishman.
Wasps' opinion might also be of interest after their head coach was involved in a scene at the team hotel which was, apparently, at best ugly. It occurred in the hours after the victory over Ireland and was presumably witnessed by members of the public.
Connolly is not a high-profile figure in the camp, but in his role as conditioning expert has worked with the likes of Bolton Wanderers and Joe Calzaghe in the past. Neither he or Edwards could be reached for comment yesterday.
Meanwhile, the management refused to confirm if Edwards had even been "officially" suspended or for how long, although a source insisted he would be back for the next international, against the Barbarians on June 4. By all accounts the WRU have not disciplined Edwards but instead "it's more of a team thing".
Whatever that means, Wales will no doubt soon discover as they continue to count the very real cost of such a depressing climax. The players themselves have seen their earnings hit as well as their pride. They went from being on £40,000 a man to £7,000 for finishing fourth. This was the third time in succession they have ended below England, France and Ireland and the frustration was written all over Gatland's face. After three straight wins, Wales were, in the Kiwi's words, "presented with a big opportunity".
Perhaps not to force the highly unlikely scenario of a 27-point win to steal the title, but definitely to maintain the momentum.
"We like the underdog tag," he said. "But whenever the expectation is for us to perform, we've struggled. That's particularly disappointing."
With South Africa, Samoa and Fiji looming in the World Cup group stages it must also be classed as deeply worrying.
In contrast, France can go forward with some hope -- which seemed impossible after the loss in Italy as Marc Lievremont accused his team of "betrayal" and "being cowardly". France responded -- either because of or in spite of their coach -- with captain Thierry Dusautoir and two-try lock Lionel Nallet oustanding.
James Hook, who had a horrid evening at out-half, was sin-binned and was then replaced. Hook may well be glad of the week he will now spend looking for a house in Perpignan, the team he is due to join. Indeed, Wales is a place to avoid for all those who may be in the firing line. (© Independent News Service)
France -- M Medard; V Clerc (Y Huget 75), D Marty, D Traille (E Estebanez 70), A Palisson; F Trinh-Duc, M Parra (J Tomas 73); T Domingo, W Servat (G Guirado 70), N Mas (L Deucalion 67), J Pierre (P Pape 67), L Nallet, T Dusautoir, J Bonnaire, I Harinordoquy (A Lapandry 72).
Wales -- L Byrne; L Halfpenny, J Roberts, J Davies, G North; J Hook (S Jones 67), M Phillips (D Peel 67); P James, M Rees (R Hibbard 67), A Jones (J Yapp 53), B Davies, A-W Jones, D Lydiate, S Warburton (J Thomas 15, R McCusker 70), R Jones.
Ref -- C Joubert (SA).