France nearly surrendered a 20-point lead before settling to secure a 26-20 victory over Wales in Cardiff.
Leading 20-0 and the break and having not been threatened once by an impotent Wales, most, except Wales’ ever-optimistic supporters wouldn’t have given the hosts a chance. But they rallied to within seven points, before basic errors cost them a chance of a miraculous comeback.
The match was a marred by passages of play that infuriated as a result of amateurish handling and poor tactical options. But there were moments which mesmerised, and those ensured you stayed trained on the contest.
Initially Wales couldn’t match France’s clinical attack via their back division, and why they persisted down that avenue of attack in the first half confounds. Their more pragmatic second half approach reaped rewards, and had they resisted the urge to box with the boxing experts, the result may have been different.
However, France built their victory almost entirely on defence – the controlled and aggressive variety in the first forty minutes and desperate scrambling in the second.
With regard to the former variation, Wales were bullied in contact, and as a result rarely got the speed on the recycle they needed to play the type of game they attempted to. France stayed patient in defence, despite a dearth of possession and territory, and capitalised on numerous errors, the biggest of which came in the 7th minute.
France’s speed off the line forced Wales’ attack to veer laterally, and well behind the advantage line. An intercept always looked possible given the careless and rudderless manner in which the ball was being distributed, and wing Alexis Palisson duly poached a floated Stephen Jones pass and ran 65m to score.
Morgan Parra converted and banked two more three pointers to take his side into 13-0 ahead.
At no stage did Wales threaten, and their desperation manifested in collectivism being traded for individualism. This ultimately cost them seven points when, after a mazy solo run, Shane Williams popped up a ball in contact only for flyhalf Francois Trinh-Duc to grasp it and sprint 30m to goal.
Parra sunk the conversion from tough angle, and being 20-0 down with France still having five gears at their disposal, it was effectively over as a contest. Or so it seemed.
Wales’ woes were amplified when they butchered a wonderful scoring opportunity four minutes after the restart – lock Luke Charteris knocking on with the line beckoning and just a wing to negotiate.
Then the drama reached its climax. A multi-phase move culminated in the ball being shifted wide to Leigh Halfpenny, who raced in to the corner. Jones sent the ball sailing through the posts to draw his side to within a converted try.
To compound France’s trouble, Parra was sin-binned for an infringement in the build up to that try, and Wales had a number of chances to punish 14-man opponents, the best of those when Jamie Roberts failed to find a support runner on his outside who would have scored under the posts.
They’d regret that, and if Frederic Michalak’s 70th minute penalty helped France breath easier, Parra’s third in the 78th sealed the result. Williams would score a late converted try, but Michalak simply booted the restart into touch to keep their Grand Slam dream alive.