What’s hot and what’s not from Wales’ 2016 Six Nations encounter with France at the Principality Stadium
Wales remain unbeaten in the 2016 Six Nations after seeing off a turgid France side at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff. It was far from a classic and Sam Warburton’s side should have been far more convincing winners; a late Guilhem Guirado try added a gloss to the French total but Wales dominated this contest and should have put more points on the board. The boot of Dan Biggar and a George North try – created by Jonathan Davies’s kick ahead and an unintentional assist from Jules Plisson – proved enough and they will head to Twickenham in two weeks with confidence, but they need to be more clinical.
Leading figures – Sam Warburton, back at openside, was the standout player on the pitch. Not only did he produce his usual work-rate in defence, crucial in stopping a French maul close to the Wales’ line, and get over the ball at the breakdown, but he was far more prominent as a ball-carrier. Early in the second half he got within a metre of scoring a try and he took the ball into contact regularly and at pace, making yards. He was at the heart of Wales’ performance.
The French struggled but their skipper Guilhem Guirado, the hooker, drove them forward throughout. The scrum was a nightmare for the full 80 minutes – reset after reset – but France got the nudge on a few times and Guirado continually offered himself as an option with ball in hand, be that as a link man or the man driving the maul. The try he scored in the final minutes was well deserved.
High-ball jinks – Both Dan Biggar and Liam Williams again showed their strength under the high ball with commanding takes, either from their own kicks or French ones. There’s little concern for their own safety when they leap into the air and sometimes you wonder how they come away with the ball, but some of their takes against France were simply sublime.
Rob Evans – Many were surprised when Test centurion Gethin Jenkins was usurped by Rob Evans, but the Scarlets loosehead has applied himself extremely well in the Wales’ No 1 shirt. It’s the skills he brings in the loose that mark him out as a long-term prospect. In the opening set of phases from Wales, Evans must have been involved five or six times, be it with a carry, a soft pass or sharp offload. He has a big future ahead.
Clinical edge – 67% territory and 59% possession. Those were Wales’ stats for the first 40 minutes, yet they had only six points on the board. They were dominating the game in terms of the collisions, putting multiple phases together and playing, as modern parlance goes, in the right areas, but had little to show for it. Gareth Davies was lively and made a couple of sharp breaks, but his decision-making at times was questionable. Until Wales can get across the gain-line more regularly, be it with brawn or guile, and then score tries, they will continue to struggle against the world’s best teams.
Likewise France had a concerted 12-minute spell in Wales’ 22 midway through the second half, but their tactics involved driving mauls from 5m lineouts and trying to burrow over from scrums. ‘French flair’ seemed a long way off their agenda, with players bereft of ideas and inspiration. As my colleague Gavin Mortimer said on Twitter: “This French XV suck the soul out of opponents. So bad they drag everyone else down to their level.”
Tackle technique – Dan Lydiate was penalised for a no arms tackle on Guilhem Guirado, Jonathan Danty was pinged for taking Alex Cuthbert beyond the horizontal and Antoine Burban had to go off for an HIA having taken a big knock from Sam Warburton after getting his head on the wrong side as he attempted to stop the Wales captain. These players need to work a little on their technique, for their own and their opponents’ safety as well as to prevent conceding needless penalties.
The stadium! – The roof was open for the duration of the match because engineers couldn’t resolve a technical problem, so the Principality Stadium was a little chillier than usual. It’s usually a cosy place to watch a game but we definitely needed another layer given the cold weather. From a playing perspective, at least it didn’t rain so the teams had decent conditions. It must also be said that the days of this pitch cutting up after a single scrum look long gone.
14 – The number of penalties Wales conceded compared to eight by France.
11 – The number of turnovers Wales won compared to six by France.
20 – The number of tackles made by Taulupe Faletau, twice as many as France’s top tackler Guilhem Guirado.
144 – The number of ball carries made by France compared to 91 by Wales.
Wales: Liam Williams (G Anscombe 74); A Cuthbert, J Davies, J Roberts, G North; D Biggar (R Priestland 71), G Davies (Lloyd Williams 78); R Evans (G Jenkins 56), S Baldwin (K Owens 67), S Lee (T Francis 67), B Davies, AW Jones (J Ball 78), D Lydiate (J Tipuric 78), S Warburton (capt), T Faletau.
Try: North. Con: Biggar. Pens: Biggar 4.
France: M Medard; V Vakatawa, M Mermoz (G Fickou 64), J Danty, D Camara; J Plisson (F Trinh-Duc 64), M Machenaud (S Bezy 71); J Poirot (U Atonio 64), G Guirado (capt), R Slimani (V Pelo 64), P Jedrasiak (Y Maestri 44), A Flanquart, W Lauret, A Burban (L Goujon 30-36, 53), D Chouly (C Chat 64).
Try: Guirado. Con: Trinh-Duc. Pen: Plisson.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
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