Wales stop losing streak by humiliating France at home
FRANCE 6 WALES 16
Wales defeat listless France
France's Dimitri Szarzewski (L) and Louis Picamoles tackle Wales' Mike Phillips. Photo: Reuters
PARIS: The derision was huge at the end of this match as the French public turned on their team to express disgust at what they had just witnessed. Two opening defeats in a Six Nations campaign after an autumn that promised so much.
French rugby is officially in tatters. Not that Wales will care. In a match that never quite got past ordinary, they stopped a dismal run of eight consecutive defeats to resurrect their Six Nations campaign and save coach Rob Howley from a public flogging. And in Paris of all places, a venue where Welsh knees normally tremble. It was quite something.
If Wales have an ounce of honesty, they will admit even they struggled to see the victory coming. It was not that they were lucky to see off France. They were not. It was just the game was so poor, so one-dimensional, so lacking in imagination, so bereft of reliable indicators that to find anyone coming home in front was a surprise.
For most of this match the teams were all square on the scoreboard, and that seemed about right. It was one step forward, one step back.
But Wales prevailed in a decisive spell inside the last 10 minutes when Dan Biggar found George North with a cross kick in the 73rd minute to enable North to squeeze over in the corner. That was followed a minute later by a masterly long-range Leigh Halfpenny penalty.
Going into the game, the focus for Wales was on engineering a productive start. ''We've got to get the boys' heart rate up,'' Howley had said.
It was not a blistering beginning but Gethin Jenkins forced a turnover, Jamie Roberts set off on a run and Mike Phillips attacked shoulders.
The problem for Wales was France were also keen to spark and had the huge Mathieu Bastareaud, by far the most influential player in a first half where the collisions were seismic.
Much of the opening spell was an exercise in testosterone-sponsored chest-beating. France probably had the edge in the early exchanges simply because they strung more phases together.
But Wales, to their credit, also attacked. North and Alex Cuthbert clattered into bodies and there was some wonderful defensive work from the entire side whenever France got within 10 metres of the Welsh line.
It was no surprise, as an attritional but unedifying half closed, to discover the score tied at 3-3 with a penalty apiece from Frederic Michalak and Halfpenny.
The momentum shifted temporarily towards Wales after the restart. Phillips cantered out of his 22, forcing France to give away a penalty that Halfpenny knocked over. Yet that seem to stir up the French.
As the game staggered to a close, neither side seemed capable of hanging onto the ball long enough to find an opening.
There was one spell, 10 minutes from time, where mistake followed error in a series of calamities after which the crowd howled in despair and disbelief. But then, shortly after, Biggar kicked to North, North scored, Halfpenny converted and then landed the penalty to take the game out of France's reach. And that was that. France are in free fall.