George North was gifted a second-half double as Wales fought back to beat fragile France 24-19 in the Six Nations opener on a miserable Friday in Paris.
A 10th successive victory looked unlikely for Warren Gatland’s side when Les Bleus went in at half-time with a 16-0 lead following tries from Louis Picamoles and Yoann Huget, with Camille Lopez slotting over a penalty and a drop goal.
Wales looked flat in the first half and made far too many errors in difficult conditions, with the rain driving down at Stade de France, but Jacques Brunel’s side capitulated after the break.
Tomos Williams got Wales back in it on his Six Nations debut and a Huget howler put a try on a plate for North, who then intercepted a dreadful pass from Sebastien Vahaamahina to put Wales in front eight minutes from time.
Dan Biggar had come off the bench to put Warren Gatland’s men in front for the first time before Lopez gave France a one-point advantage, but the second score from North was decisive.
France suffered heartbreak when Johnny Sexton booted a last-gasp drop goal in their first match of the tournament last year and they only had themselves to blame for another shattering loss, while North became the fourth-highest scorer in Six Nations history in what was his country’s biggest second-half comeback in the competition.
16 – @WelshRugbyUnion have recorded the biggest ever half-time turnaround in a @SixNationsRugby match as well as their biggest ever half-time comeback in any competition. Contrast. pic.twitter.com/lwh6xXKWTU
— OptaJonny (@OptaJonny) February 1, 2019
Les Bleus made a bright start and they were rewarded when Picamoles took a pass from Maxime Medard and bulldozed his way over after the vibrant Morgan Parra got quick ball just six minutes in.
Parra was unable to add the extras and Gareth Anscombe was short with a long-range penalty attempt before Liam Williams had a try ruled out when he knocked on while sliding over.
France’s handling was much more impressive with the rain teeming down and they doubled their lead in style after 23 minutes, Huget racing away to finish on the left flank after Arthur Iturria set him up with a sublime one-handed offload.
Anscombe was off target from the tee again, but Lopez made no mistake from in front of the posts and slotted over a drop goal on the stroke of half-time to give his side a healthy 16-0 lead.
Wales were in desperate need of a strong start to the second half and they were back in it when Josh Adams made an incisive break and set up the supporting Tomos Williams for a simple finish.
Having been in command, France found themselves only two points in front 12 minutes into the second half after Huget spilled the ball when sliding towards his own line to gift North a try.
Wales thought they should have been in front when Ross Moriarty had a five-pointer ruled out as Alun Wyn Jones was adjudged to have obstructed Picamoles, before Lopez missed from the tee.
Biggar put resurgent Wales in front for the first time with a penalty after he and Gareth Davies replaced Anscombe and Tomos Williams.
Another penalty from Lopez edged France back into the lead but they self-destructed yet again, Vahaamahina looping a dreadful pass which North saw coming, the alert wing darting away to cross again.
Biggar converted and France were unable to recover as they let victory slip through their fingers.
France the masters of their own downfall
It was an all-too familiar story for France, throwing away a victory which was there for the taking.
Brunel’s side played the conditions superbly in the first half, but, with harsh words from Gatland no doubt ringing in their ears, Wales stepped it up after the interval.
However, France made it all too easy for them. Their soft centre and ability to kill games off when they have the upper hand cost them yet again.
Key Opta Facts
19 – @George_North now has 19 @SixNationsRugby tries (only 3 players have more), he’s the 1st @WelshRugbyUnion player to score more than once away from home against France since @martynewilliams in 2005. Opportunistic. pic.twitter.com/zcTM2Ckxi5
— OptaJonny (@OptaJonny) February 1, 2019
– North has now scored 19 tries in the Six Nations, only Brian O’Driscoll (26), Ian Smith (24) and Shane Williams (22) have scored more in the tournament.
– Wales notched up a 50th win against France (D3, L44); Gatland’s men have won seven of their last eight against France.
– Huget scored his first Six Nations try since 2014, ending an 11-game barren run.
– Wales have won their last 10 games in all competitions, only once before have they enjoyed a longer winning run; an 11 game run between 1907 and 1910.
Wales should make it two wins out of two when they face Italy in Rome next Saturday, while France face England at Twickenham the following day.
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