The French beat Wales 27-23 in dramatic game at Principality Stadium
France keep Grand Slam bid on track with win in Cardiff
Vibrant atmosphere. Huge physicality. Fast and frenetic. This was an entertaining match at the Principality Stadium.
It was billed as a big test for France. They had seen off England and Italy at home, but could they achieve the same success away from home? Were they really rejuvenated? Could they beat Wales in Cardiff for the first time since 2010? The answers to all three questions would be yes as they triumphed 27-23.
As manager Raphael Ibanez said afterwards: “This is what French fans want to see, a France team delivering for 80 minutes.”
After years of underachievement in the Six Nations, France are three wins from three and remain on course for a first Grand Slam since 2010. But had Wales had a better percentage return from chances created it could well have been a different story.
Twice they had a series of five-metre scrums when France were reduced to 14 men – Gregory Alldritt sin-binned at the end of the first half and Mohamed Haouas shown a yellow card towards the end of the second half – but on neither occasion could they convert those chances into points.
In contrast, France were ruthless in taking their opportunities – a fortuitous bounce creating their first try and an interception leading to their third.
Wales were competitive throughout and narrowed the gap to four points with five minutes to go, but whereas in the past France have succumbed to that sort of pressure – remember Wales’ comeback last year? – this time they stood firm.
There seems to be more maturity from this French side. They have the talent – backs with pace and footwork, physical forwards – but now also have the game management and maturity to close out matches.
There has been plenty of talk of Shaun Edwards’s influence on this French team and it was evident in the ferocity with which the men in blue were competing at the breakdown.
The power of their counter rucks meant Wales struggled to keep hold of the ball and lacked fluidity in their attacks. France’s defence as a whole was resolute, particularly as they scrambled to thwart a couple of Welsh breaks in the closing minutes.
Anthony Bouthier scored the opening try after six minutes. Teddy Thomas and Leigh Halfpenny had both leapt for a high ball but neither player could take it cleanly and it fell into the path of the France full-back, who rounded Wales’ defence to touch down near the posts.
France had a second on the half-hour. Gael Fickou thought he had scored it a couple of minutes previously but it was ruled out for a forward pass earlier in the move. Yet the visitors quickly put pressure back on Wales and forced a lineout five metres out.
Rather than set the maul after winning the lineout, Charles Ollivon quickly transferred the ball to Paul Willemse, who burst down the blind side and stretched over the line.
Wales had chances at the end of the half to get a try of their own and opted for a lineout and then two scrums from a series of penalties deep in the France 22 but they couldn’t convert that pressure into points, even when against 14 men following Alldritt’s sin-binning (incidentally Fickou moved from the wing to pack down in the back row in those five-metre scrums). The Edwards-inspired France defence held firm and the visitors led 17-9 at the break.
Wales got that elusive try early in the second half when a Nick Tompkins kick ahead forced France to concede a five-metre lineout. The hosts didn’t get over from the maul but recycled and after a bit of pinball Dillon Lewis picked up the ball and grounded it against the right-hand post protector.
Yet France were over again when Man of the Match Romain Ntamack picked off a Tompkins pass and sprinted over from his own half. A penalty extended the lead to 11 points.
There was a contentious call on 65 minutes when Wales were attacking close to France’s line. Ken Owens went to pass to Josh Adams on the wing but the ball was knocked loose in the tackle by Willemse. Wales felt it was a deliberate knock-on and should have resulted in a penalty try, but the officials thought otherwise, only awarding a scrum.
That led to another series of scrums that yielded nothing for Wales because once Demba Bamba came on to replace the binned Haouas it was France who were awarded the scrum penalty.
Dan Biggar did get over after in the 74th minute and Tompkins made a promising break in the final moments, but when the penalty he conceded for holding on summed up Wales’ afternoon.
France march on. Wales need to work on being more clinical.
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