Les Bleus hold on for a 13-9 victory at the Principality Stadium
France keep Grand Slam dream alive with narrow win over Wales
Jeez, that was tight.
It was the sort of performance we have seen regularly from Wales over the past decade or more: dogged, gritty, spirited. They almost seem to deliver their best when written off in all quarters, albeit that they ended up on the losing side here.
They may not have stopped France’s Six Nations Grand Slam bid but, boy, did the hosts make them work hard for a 13-9 victory.
When the final whistle did blow it was pure relief for les Bleus while frustration was the sentiment that dominated Dan Biggar‘s post-match press conference. As the Wales captain said: “We pushed the best team in the world to the edge.” But ultimately it was France who held on for the win.
The game may have started with fireworks – literally the ones that lit up the sky over the Principality Stadium, figuratively the skills that France displayed in the opening minutes.
Yet at the end it was surely bitten nails rather than wide eyes that were more common amongst the 63,208 in attendance.
When Anthony Jelonch crossed in the ninth minute, being put away by Melvyn Jaminet to finish an attack the full-back had launched, it looked like the slick passing this French team is becoming known for would inspire yet another victory. After all, it had seen them score more than twice as many tries as Wales in this championship leading into the match.
France did have other chances, with Antoine Dupont finding opportunities where there seemingly were none.
There was one incident in the 35th minute when it looked like the scrum-half was boxed in, surrounded by red shirts, but he somehow got the ball to Francois Cros, who in turn released Yoram Moefana.
Yet the visitors were not allowed to pull clear. Wales scrambled well in defence, put pressure on France with their kicking game – Biggar’s spirals and 50:22s particular standouts – and disrupted les Bleus’ lineout too.
Plus, Taulupe Faletau was having one of those games. He’s always been a classy player, his soft hands and big stride popping up in the wide channels. Here he was bursting through the middle and making an impact in different ways.
It was 10-9 to France at half-time but rather than open up in the second half, it got tighter and tighter. “Arm wrestle” and “slug-fest” were the words Biggar used.
There were only three points scored after the break, and those were slotted in the 46th minute, as Wales set up camp in the French half and tested the defence that has been carved by their old coach Shaun Edwards.
The longer France failed to extend their lead, to put space between themselves and Wales on the scoreboard, the more nervous they looked and the more errors crept into their game. But their line wasn’t breached.
Around the hour mark they couldn’t escape their own 22 and Wales had a great try-scoring opportunity of their own. Biggar, of course, was the provider with a cross-field kick that fell perfectly for Faletau. The No 8 passed inside to Jonathan Davies but the centre couldn’t take the ball and it instead fell to Dupont to clear.
In the end it was France’s counter-rucking that proved decisive as it allowed them to leave their own half and prevent Wales from returning there.
First they won a penalty at the breakdown as Wales attacked from a scrum on the 22, then after they lost possession following that subsequent lineout they won a penalty on halfway as their jacklers were quick to get on the ball again.
Jaminet wasn’t able to slot the points but Wales’ clearance gave France a lineout in the Wales half and from there they set the maul.
It was certainly a nervous final few minutes for both teams but it was another turnover at the breakdown that proved critical as Peato Mauvaka clamped his hands on the ball as Wales launched a last-gap attack. France secured possession, cleared the ball and they now return to Paris, where they will look to close out a first Grand Slam since 2010 by beating England.
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