As France lined up to take on Wales in today’s 6 Nations match up, the pressure was well and truly on both teams to secure a win. France had been sent reeling after a loss to Italy the week before. Wales were on a losing run of 8 matches, with their confidence rock bottom.
From the start the match was set to be a stop start affair with the pitch cutting up dangerously at the first scrum. With such a poor quality surface, neither pack could gain any sort of dominance or consistency in that set piece, and it quickly became a lottery in decision making from the referee George Clancy.
This match was not destined to be one enjoyed by neutrals. Both sides were incredibly evenly matched, and as an arm wrestle for posession ensued the defences ruled throughout the first half, with neither side showing any sort of flair or inventiveness to break through. France looked the more dangerous in driving through with their forwards, yet some last ditch defence from Wales kept the visitors in the game, aided by a French oversight in squandering a clear overlap.
Wales, whenever they had the ball, could only shift it from side to side as the French absorbed their attacking play with ease. The need to flood the breakdown with players simply slowed Wales’ ball down and with their players taking the ball into contact stationary they often had to result in kicking the ball away and simply handing possession back to France.
The first half ended 3-3 to whistles and boos from the home crowd, renowned for voicing their displeasure at a lacklustre display on the pitch.
The second half continued in much the same fashion, with another exchange of penalties taking the scores to 6-6.
It was looking more and more like it would be one individual piece of magic that would win this game for either side, and that moment finally came in the last ten minutes when Wales started to make ground through their forwards.
Two consecutive phases deep in the French 22, first led by replacement Ken Owens saw Wales get quick ball from the breakdown. A quick pass from replacement scrum half Lloyd Williams saw fly half Dan Biggar chip a perfectly weighted kick behind the French defence , where the luck of the bounce saw wing George North cross with a spectacular finish for a very hard earned try. The Man of the Match Leigh Halfpenny nailed the difficult conversion.
Nerves were still jangling for Wales, yet another penalty came their way, again kicked by Halfpenny which gave them a ten point cushion going into the final five minutes.
France, desperate to try and claw some points back, looked to run the ball back yet time and again the Welsh defence drove them back, Ryan Jones being his disruptive best at the breakdown, as the French looked rudderless in their backline. The decision yet again to start Michalak at fly half, despite him playing at scrum half for most of the season, turned out to be a wrong one.
The match ended with Wales turning out 16-6 winners.
France looked to have gotten even worse since their loss to Italy, and their 9 and 10 axis needs looking at, as does the decision to continue to play in form centre Fofana out on the wing. Bastareaud was solid for them in defence today, yet they looked clueless when trying to attack. They face a very tough trip away to England next, and will need to improve every facet of their play if they are to have a hope of winning and moving themselves off the bottom of the 6 Nations table.
It was an ugly game, riddled with errors and a lack of attacking flair, yet the passion, guts and determination shown by this Welsh side away from home when they were so low on confidence is not one to be lightly dismissed. Their defence improved massively from their opening game against Ireland, and if they can keep that level up they can take hope going into all of their remaining games. Their lack of attacking play however still remains a big concern and something they will need to improve going into their remaining games.
Full time score: France 6 – 16 Wales
Man of the Match: Leigh Halfpenny
Referee: George Clancy
France: 15-Huget, 14-Fofana, 13-Bastareaud, 12-Mermoz, 11-Fall, 10-Michalak, 9-Machenaud; 1-Forestier, 2-Szarzewski, 3-Mas, 4-Suta, 5-Maestri, 6-Ouedraogo, 7-Dusautoir, 8-Picamoles.
Replacements: 16-Kayser (for Szarzewski , 51), 17-Debaty (Forestier, 51), 18-Ducalcon (for Mas, 56), 19-Taofifenua (for Suta, 65), 20-Chouly (for Ouedraogo, 52), 21-Parra (for Machenaud, 56), 22-Trinh-Duc (for Fall, 41), 23-Fritz (for Mermoz, 75).
Wales: 15-Halfpenny, 14-Cuthbert, 13-Davies, 12-Roberts, 11-North, 10-Biggar, 9-Phillips; 1-Jenkins, 2-Hibbard, 3-A Jones, 4-Coombs, 5-I Evans, 6-R Jones (captain), 7-Tipuric, 8-Faletau.
Replacements: 16-K Owens (for Hibbard, 56), 17-P James (for Jenkins, blood, 38-40, 59) , 18-Mitchell (for A Jones, 79), 19-Reed (for Evans, 79), 20-Shingler (for R Jones, 79), 21-L Williams (for Phillips, 71), 22-Hook, 23-S Williams (for Roberts, 79)