Wales withstood a second-half onslaught to beat France 14-13 at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday, writes MARIETTE ADAMS.
The result sees Wales finish second on the Six Nations log, with France fourth.
While there wasn’t much at stake for these teams in the last game of the 2018 tournament, they contributed in equal measure to produce a thoroughly enjoyable contest.
France made a lively start to the game and after a couple of powerful carries, flyhalf Francois Trinh-Duc dropped back into the pocket and struck a superb drop goal to put the visitors three points up.
As can be expected from the French on any given day, a bizarre sequence of play followed which allowed Wales to score. Wales took a short restart but confusion reigned in France’s ranks as they simply stopped despite the ball travelling the required 10m. Wales regained possession and when a grubber was threaded through, Trinh-Duc rather hilariously failed to collect the ball and from his mistake, Liam Williams scored.
The game was played at a high tempo with both sides thriving in open play and making easy metres over the gainline. But France’s discipline let them down and they were punished as Leigh Halfpenny slotted two quick penalties for an 11-3 lead.
With Wales on the front foot, France’s interim captain Mathieu Bastareaud made a big hit on Rob Evans close to the touchline to earn a lineout for his team. From a set-play, an offload by Gael Fickou freed up hooker Adrien Pelissie, who went on a quality run down the right. With support in numbers, the ball was swung in-field, before Trinh-Duc’s short pass put Fickou through a gap and in the clear to score a magnificent try.
The tackles started to fly in and soon several players on both sides were out on their feet requiring medical treatment. France lost star flank Yacouba Camara to injury, while Wales centre Scott Williams was forced off on suspicion of suffering a concussion.
It continued to be an evenly-matched contest at the breakdown, but the one area of the game where Wales had a clear advantage was in the scrums. And after launching another attack from a dominant scrum, the hosts were awarded a penalty following a high tackle by Pelissie. Halfpenny turned the opportunity into three points with a kick at goal to stretch Wales' advantage to four.
Maxime Machenaud, who boasts the highest success rate off the tee in this year’s Six Nations, fluffed a shot at goal on the stroke of half-time, but the visiting scrumhalf didn’t make the same mistake twice as he nailed a penalty early in the second half to make it a one-point game.
France were then left frustrated. When they finally got a shove on Wales at the scrum, Trinh-Duc made the inexcusable error of kicking the ball dead from the resulting penalty. The flyhalf's horror-game continued when he – with no pressure from any Welsh chasers – fielded a kick deep in his own half only to throw a ridiculous forward pass. Wales failed to make the most of the opportunity, as a knock-on allowed France to regain possession. The visitors went on the attack and when Wales threaded the offside line, Trinh-Duc lined up a regulation kick which would have put France ahead, but he missed the target from close range.
France continued to control possession and rattle Wales, but in the end, inaccuracy proved to be their undoing. Twice in the final minutes, they had chances to go into Wales' territory when they won turnover penalties. But poor decision-making saw Geoffrey Doumayrou kick possession away in the first instance, while a lost lineout on their own feed allowed Wales to hack the ball into touch and bring an end to the game.
Wales – Try: Liams Willams. Penalties: Leigh Halfpenny (3).
France – Try: Gael Fickou. Conversion: Maxime Machenaud. Penalty: Machenaud. Drop goal: Francois Trinh-Duc.
Wales – 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 13 Scott Williams, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Josh Navidi, 6 Justin Tipuric, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 4 Cory Hill, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Rob Evans.
Subs: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Nicky Smith, 18 Samson Lee, 19 Bradley Davies, 20 Aaron Shingler, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Gareth Anscombe, 23 Steff Evans.
France – 15 Benjamin Fall, 14 Gael Fickou, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud (c), 12 Geoffrey Doumayrou, 11 Remy Grosso, 10 Francois Trinh-Duc, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Marco Tauleigne, 7 Wenceslas Lauret, 6 Yacouba Camara, 5 Paul Gabrillagues, 4 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 3 Cedate Gomes Sa, 2 Adrien Pelissie, 1 Jefferson Poirot.
Subs: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Dany Priso, 18 Rabah Slimani, 19 Bernard Le Roux, 20 Mathieu Babillot, 21 Baptiste Couilloud, 22 Lionel Beauxis, 23 Geoffrey Palis.
Photo: Harry Trump/Getty Images
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