France win 32-30 in Paris to take title race to final match
Late Brice Dulin try denies Wales a Grand Slam
It was a frenetic, chaotic game that was full of drama, with momentum swinging one way and then the other, and it ended with only 27 players on the pitch as France received a red card and Wales two yellows.
Midway through the second half it looked like Wales were set to seal a fifth Slam of the Six Nations era, following those in 2005, 2008, 2012 and 2019, as they led 30-20 and had the experience to close the game out.
Instead, France dominated possession and territory in the final quarter, taking advantage of Welsh infringements, and eventually gaps appeared in the wall of red shirts – the yellow cards clearly not helping – as Charles Ollivon and Dulin got over.
The destination of the championship will now be determined by Friday’s match between France and Scotland. The French need to beat Scotland with a bonus point and overhaul Wales’ better points differential – France have a points difference of 41 and Wales 61 so the French need to beat Scotland by 21 points.
So how did the game play out? It was tight throughout, with nothing to choose between the sides at half-time with the scores at 17-17.
Romain Taofifenua got the opening try after six minutes as France pummelled the Welsh line following a five-metre lineout. The second-row picked up the ball and stretched for the line to give the hosts the lead.
Wales were quick to level things up. Gareth Davies was held up over the line by Charles Ollivon and from the subsequent five-metre scrum, there were a series of strong carries that took Wales closer to the line before Dan Biggar hit a hard line to power over.
Then the pendulum swung back towards France, the home side showing how ruthlessly efficient they can be as they counter-attacked from an average Welsh clearance.
Dulin chipped over the Welsh defence, Matthieu Jalibert collected the ball and passed inside to Antoine Dupont, who ran over under the posts.
Back came Wales – again. Liam Williams linked with Taulupe Faletau to take play close to the line and then Josh Navidi burrowed over from a metre out.
Wales took the lead for the first time when Biggar slotted a penalty in the 25th minute but France were back level before half-time when Romain Ntamack – on after Jalibert failed an HIA – put over a penalty of his own.
Both teams were still playing going into the closing stages of the half but neither could find another breakthrough. Wales did that early in the second period, though. First came another Biggar penalty and then a big moment in the 50th minute.
Faletau fed replacement scrum-half Tomos Williams from the top of a lineout and play went to the left, to the right and then back to the left. With the French defence closing down space fast, Justin Tipuric put a grubber in behind into the opposition 22. Josh Adams kicked the ball inside, Williams popped the ball off the deck to Adams, who got over the line.
There was a lengthy TMO review as they checked for offside, obstruction and knock-ons, and once those elements were cleared it came down to the grounding. Referee Luke Pearce had awarded an on-field try and while there was a hand under the ball at the end of the replay, TMO Wayne Barnes said: “It’s not clearly held up throughout, therefore I can’t overrule.” Try.
France reduced the deficit with a penalty but Wales then piled on more pressure. Their maul was rolling with serious momentum from a lineout in the 22 before it was brought down. The ball then made its way to Louis Rees-Zammit on the wing and he looked to have touched down in the corner, but the TMO review showed he’d grounded it against the base of the flag so it was in-goal. No try.
Wales did get a penalty for the collapsed maul to restore a ten-point lead at 30-20 – and Mohamed Haouas was sent to the sin-bin. However, being reduced in number seemed to flick a switch for France.
They pitched camp in the Wales 22 as the visitors conceded a succession of penalties and Dulin eventually crossed after several minutes in that area. Yet Barnes had another intervention to make as TMO having spotted foul play in the build-up.
France second-row Paul Willemse was red-carded for a clearout at a ruck on Wyn Jones where his hand made contact with the prop’s eye area, and that meant Dulin’s try was ruled out.
Yet in the final ten minutes, it was France who had the man advantage as Wales had Faletau and Liam Williams sin-binned in quick succession.
The pressure kept building close to the Welsh line and France did get over a few times but Wales kept managing to hold them out until the 77th minute. It was then that Gregory Alldritt broke from a five-metre scrum and got to within a few centimetres. Ollivon then picked up and dotted down, Ntamack converted and the gap was down to three points.
Wales went deep with the restart and France had to attack from their own half, but a knock-on gave possession to Wales. The visitors looked like they could close out the Slam in the final minutes but conceded a penalty for sealing off as they worked through a series of pick-and-goes around halfway. France launched from a lineout just outside the 22 and after multiple phases Dulin went over in the corner.
Wales are still favourites to lift the title given their superior points difference, but they will have to wait to see how France-Scotland plays out on Friday night.
Can’t get to the shops? Download the digital edition of Rugby World straight to your tablet. Subscribe to the print edition for magazine delivery to your door.
Follow Rugby World on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.