Wales have finished second in the Six Nations after claiming a wobbly but vital 14-13 win over France at the Principality Stadium.
Both sides played with a sense of tempo, but without any kind of clinical edge. This had more of an end-of-camp kick-around feel to it, with only league positions under Ireland up for grabs. France allowed Wales to win as they played a lot of rugby without capitalising, but Wales must be thrilled they crawled over the line. They finished fifth last year, and climbed three places this time.
Alun Wyn Jones and Taulupe Faletau threw their bodies at the scrappy affair and it was only secured in the last play, as Aaron Shingler stole a final French lineout when the visitors tried in vain to snatch a win at the death.
And so ends Six Nations 2018.
This was a tense and error-strewn number that just happened to follow on the heals of the impressive Irish festivities at Twickenham. It could have given us a little sting in the tail if France had won, but they ended up being their own worst enemies.
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We got the full Francois Trinh-Duc here. He slotted a drop-goal calmly at the start of the match, but straight from the restart Wales reclaimed the ball, worked it wide and a Scott Williams grubber bounced right over Trinh-Duc’s head. Liam Williams couldn’t fail to score. In the second half, the ten would miss a sitter of a penalty that would have given France the lead.
Fickou finished off a try he created himself, beginning out wide and tracking play in-field. Worked back to him, he scampered through a gaping hole for his side’s only try. They could have built so much more, but scrums near the Welsh line crumbled in the second half. Both teams ran shuttles between he try-lines, like a basketball match with no buckets dunked.
Wales would spill vital offloads and French runners would be swallowed up – even big skipper Mathieu Bastareaud. The French could have really shown that they have turned a corner here, but there was no Cardiac Kids, no come-from-behind win. Wales clung on.
So here’s what you will be talking about after this game…
By the skin of their teeth
Wales claimed their win thanks largely to the fact France could not convert their opportunities, from the tee or with ball in hand.
So much play was bogged down in the midfield, but when France had chances – as with Remy Grosso getting a one-on-one with George North at the end – he was duly introduced, via the foot, to the touchline.
Not that Wales offered anything better. One try is no great return. But it is a result. One that means they are the runner’s-up in the Six Nations. Oh, and also one that pushes England down to fifth place in the final standings.
Nothing to write home about
There was adventure and tempo with France at the start. But they could not make a whopping advantage in possession count as the contest wore on. It was when they got in space and had to feed their strike runners that there was a holding of breath – and not their nerve. Eventually all the rebuilding of this French side will have to stop and more than a few good results will need to follow.
Of course when head coach Warren Gatland said earlier in the month that his side were targeting second place in the Championship, it was paid little notice. But even though many will forget this tie in a flash, the experience for players like Josh Navidi, Cory Hill and Hadleigh Parkes in collecting important wins in a red jersey could well be viewed as another little bonus.
Alun Wyn Jones
His was a captain’s knock in a physical game that could have gone either way. He was Man of the Match here and there’s no reason to argue. And as a reward, he will be allowed to rest this summer. No tour for him in June.
Fickou winging it
The Toulouse centre was selected at wing – his first time as a wide-out for France, and somewhere where he hasn’t featured for his club in a few years.
It showed defensively. Early on the Welsh spotted that his positioning was off, so laced kicks behind him when he was in no man’s land.
However, he is an instinctive attacker, and strolled through an enormous hole to take a first-half try. No one doubts his front-foot prowess. But he had kicks aimed his way constantly and in the end, that try by Wales was a key difference-maker.
Wales – Tries: L Williams. Pens: Halfpenny 3.
France – Tries: Fickou. Cons: Machenaud 2. DG: Trinh-Duc.