Ahead of Saturday's showdown in Cardiff, Jacob Whitehead picks out a handful of standout matches between the French and the Welsh
Five of the Best Wales v France Matches
1999 Six Nations – France 33 Wales 34
Wales had not won in France since a 25-10 victory 24 years previously in 1975. Despite having lost their opening two games of the tournament they triumphed dramatically over a French side who would reach the World Cup final six months later.
The 1999 tournament was packed with excitement for Wales, who would go to Wembley a month later and stun England 32-31, preventing Clive Woodward’s from winning the Grand Slam.
Back in Paris, and Welsh captain Rob Howley set up two crucial tries with trademark jinking runs. The first came after only five minutes, with Howley exploiting space at the back of a lineout around halfway to run to within five metres, and Colin Charvis profited on the very next phase.
Then, just before half-time, Howley dummied two French defenders and fed a galloping Craig Quinnell, to give the Welsh a 28-18 lead at the break.
France, boasting an immensely talented back-line (Emile Ntamack scored a hat-trick), inevitably roared back into the contest, they reduced the deficit to 31-28 before Thomas Castaignede went over after slick hands, giving his side the lead.
However, the mercurial fly-half would quickly turn villain. First his late tackle gave Neil Jenkins a chance to put Wales ahead 34-33, then his late penalty attempt drifted wide, ensuring a famous Welsh win.
2001 Six Nations – France 35 Wales 43
Two years later and the sides would play out another high-scoring classic at the Stade de France, with Scott Quinnell the star. Wales had been thrashed by England and drawn against Scotland, whilst their game against Ireland had been postponed due to foot-and-mouth disease. Graham Henry was under pressure ahead of leading the Lions tour to Australia that summer.
After only seven minutes French fly-half Gerald Merceron danced through a hole and put centre Sebastien Bonetti under the posts – and the points would not stop flowing all game.
Quinnell would perform one of the great try-saving tackles on Philippe Bernat-Salles to prevent his team going further behind, before the sides began going penalty crazy, with France 19-9 up four minutes before half-time.
At this point the game swung, and like two years earlier, Rob Howley was the inspiration. Quinnell picked up from the base of a scrum in the Welsh 22 before slipping the ball away to his scrum-half, who outpaced Bernat-Salles and then embarrassed veteran full-back Jean-Luc Sadourny with a dummy. Wales were back in the game.
Soon after the break and Quinnell would grab one of his own, bursting onto a Mark Taylor offload and running in from 30 metres out, before a Neil Jenkins drop-goal negated a French penalty.
That man Quinnell started the move for the next Welsh try, breaking the line before another Taylor offload fed a streaking Dafydd James to stretch the Welsh advantage.
This contest appeals because of the attacking flair each team are historically famous for, and France showed some of their own as Fabien Galthie’s break led to Bernat-Salles bringing his side within four. Then Christophe Lamaison closed the gap to within a single point.
With only five minutes left, Lamaison would edge France ahead but Neil Jenkins, in sparkling form for Wales, would be the key man. He first slotted a 40m drop-goal before Wales pounced on a Bernat-Salles mistake, and Jenkins slalomed over the try-line. A bona fide classic in which 78 points were scored.
2010 Six Nations – Wales 20 France 26
Time moves quickly: the first Friday night match at the Millennium Stadium was played a decade ago. France were on their way to a Grand Slam, a feat their modern counterparts have a chance of emulating this tournament. The game before was Wales’ famous 31-24 comeback win against Scotland, when Shane Williams pounced with the clock in the red to break Scottish hearts.
France dominated the first half. Alexis Palisson would intercept a James Hook pass after seven minutes, whilst Morgan Parra would add two further penalties. Williams, looking for another moment of magic, then threw an interception to Francois Trinh-Duc when attempting a miracle offload, and the fly-half would dot down to put France 20-0 up at the break.
However, Wales love a comeback against France. Two Stephen Jones penalties and a try from Leigh Halfpenny closed the gap, but France began to close out the game with two further penalties.
Williams separated Parra’s soul from his body with a remarkable sidestep to threaten memories of two weeks previous, but France held on and went on to complete a Grand Slam.
2019 Six Nations – France 19 Wales 24
Another Friday night would kick-off last year’s Six Nations, as 2019 saw two remarkable games between the two countries. Louis Picamoles crashed over powerfully to relieve some pressure on head coach Jacques Brunel as France looked like a top-tier team in the first 40.
Arthur Iturria slipped a miracle ball away to Yoann Huget after 22 minutes to extend the lead, before saluting the Stade de France crowd– too early as it would turn out. Camille Lopez’s drop-goal would ensure France led 16-0 at half-time.
Wales began to fight back. Josh Adams made his mark on the tournament by finding clear air in a blind alley, feeding Tomos Williams, who slid over on the slick turf. Soon after came the moment for which the game will be remembered. Hadleigh Parkes punted speculatively ahead, Huget’s crisis management was poor, and George North capitalised.
The sides swapped penalties, before the second moment of idiocy arrived. Sebastien Vahaamahina suddenly forgot he was a second-row forward and thought he was Freddie Michalak, floating a 20-metre pass to the wing. North could not believe his luck as he set Wales on the way to a Grand Slam.
2019 Rugby World Cup – France 19 Wales 20
Six months later Wales were huge favourites in their World Cup quarter-final against France, having lost only one of their last nine meetings against the French. However, they would be given a major fright in a game characterised by controversy and a lack of control.
Again France shot out of the blocks. Sebastien Vahaamahina shoved his way through weak Welsh fringe defence after only five minutes to score the opening try, before two minutes later France added another stunning score.
The excellent Virimi Vakatawa ran a wide arc, before offloading inside to the onrushing Romain Ntamack. He found Antoine Dupont in support, who drew the full-back, and before being clattered, shipped the ball to the onrushing Charles Ollivon, who flopped between the posts. France were 12 points up and flying.
Wales needed something, and quickly, and they got it when a loose ball bobbled into the hands of Aaron Wainwright around halfway – the blindside showed an impressive turn of pace to streak away from the cover defence.
However, when Ross Moriarty was yellow-carded France took full advantage, as Vakatawa beat two defenders to score from close range after an excellent Yoann Huget offload. Huget playing well, Vahaamahina on the scoresheet, it seemed like redemption for France. ‘Seemed’ being the key word.
France were 19-10 up soon after half-time, and mauling their way towards the Welsh line for what could have been a decisive try. Then came another moment of madness from Vahaamahina against Wales.
Irritated at Wainwright making a nuisance of himself in the maul, the second-row elbowed his unsuspecting opponent in the head, in full view of referee Jaco Peyper. They checked with the TMO and Vahaamahina was off.
Wales reduced the gap to 19-13 in the 53rd minutes, and had a third of the game left to find seven points against a depleted France, but les Bleus defended brilliantly. It would only be with six minutes left that Wales would take the lead, in the throes of controversy.
Tomos Williams would pick up the ball from the base of an attacking Welsh scrum, only to be ripped of the ball. It looked to float forward, before being claimed by Justin Tipuric, and from the resulting ruck Moriarty crept over.
TMO Marius Jonker checked the tape, but saw no reason to disallow the try, devastating the French.
The March issue of Rugby World magazine – a Six Nations special – is on sale now.