France toppled by Wales in Paris
France 6 Wales 16:Reigning Six Nations champions Wales ended their dismal run of eight successive defeats by claiming a first win at Stade de France since 2005. Wing George North’s 73rd-minute try condemned pre-tournament favourites France to a second Six Nations loss this season after they were beaten by Italy in Rome last weekend.
Fullback Leigh Halfpenny kicked three penalties and a conversion from his four shots at goal, as Wales quickly consigned last Saturday’s home defeat against Ireland to history.
It was their biggest victory in the French capital for 38 years, and keeps alive chances of retaining a Six Nations title they won in Grand Slam fashion last season. France, though, are bottom of the championship, with two Frederic Michakal penalties their only scoring reward from a game that saw them booed off by a capacity crowd.
A playing surface that cut up badly throughout the contest epitomised an ugly, scruffy French performance before Wales put them out of their misery by scoring 10 points during the final seven minutes. They must now pick themselves up for successive trips to England and Ireland, while Wales face a Rome appointment with Italy in two weeks’ time.
“It’s special, on the back of where we’ve come from these last few months," stand-in captain Ryan Jones told BBC Sport. “It was by no means a flawless display, there were a lot of errors there, but the character and die-hard spirit was something special. We knew our errors last week were our undoing, so we tightened a few things up and we’ve taken the spoils.”
He added: “The players who’ve been here before have come here, stood up and been counted and that’s what it takes Hopefully we’ll kick on from here; winning’s a habit and we’ve got the monkey off our back now.”
Wales went into battle without injured captain Sam Warburton as they aimed to revive their campaign following a 30-22 defeat against Ireland.
Jones skippered in his absence, while flanker Justin Tipuric and hooker Richard Hibbard were also called up and centre Jamie Roberts won his 50th cap.
France, beaten by Italy in Rome six days ago, showed two changes from that game, with juggernaut centre Mathieu Bastareaud handed a start and Toulon lock Jocelino Suta replacing an injured Pascal Pape.
Wales made a bright opening, with scrum-half Mike Phillips and number eight Toby Faletau both running strongly inside the French 22 as Les Bleus found themselves in sustained defensive mode.
After a nightmare first 20 minutes against Ireland, Wales appeared far more cohesive and organised than a week ago, and France only got out of their own half when referee George Clancy awarded them a penalty that Michalak rifled into touch. But France did not require a second invitation to move ahead as Michalak accepted their first scoring chance with a 45-metre penalty that left Wales trailing 3-0.
The visitors, though, responded in determined fashion, returning to within sight of France’s line before a short-range Halfpenny penalty equalised Michalak’s strike.
France pieced together some attacking phases inside the Wales half, with wing Benjamin Fall and centre Maxime Mermoz prominent, but Wales impressively kept their defensive shape to thwart any danger.
Outhalf Dan Biggar mixed his game well for the visitors, kicking cleverly behind the French defence when Wales had possession, but France looked more of a try-scoring threat, either via Mermoz’s guile or Bastareaud’s power.
Bath prop Paul James went on for a bloodied Gethin Jenkins as half-time approached, and a 3-3 scoreline reflected an opening 40 minutes high on endeavour but low on quality.
Jenkins returned for the second period, and Halfpenny put Wales ahead for the first time with a short-range penalty after Francois Trinh-Duc replaced an injured Fall.
Trinh-Dic went to full-back, with Yoann Huget moving to the wing, and Wales settled more quickly than their hosts, which was illustrated through a searing midfield break by Phillips that tested Les Bleus’ defence.
The pitch, laid only a month ago, cut up badly each time there was a scrum, and it was a case of Michalak negotiating the divets when he lined up his second successful penalty.
France coach Philippe Saint-Andre freely used his replacements’ bench in a bid to shake things up, while Hibbard made way for Ken Owens.
Defences continued to dominate as the clock ticked down, with both teams lacking an attacking thrust in the opposition’s 22. But Biggar then kicked superbly behind the French defence, and North caught the ball before diving over in the corner.
Halfpenny kicked the touchline conversion and then a later penalty to end Wales’ run of eight successive defeats.
“I can’t describe how much that means,” said man-of-the-match Halfpenny. “The boys played incredibly well, we stuck together and what a fantastic win — it’s been a long time coming. The boys were outstanding in defence, working for each other, just wouldn’t give in.
“When we had a chance we took it, and that’s what international rugby’s about, taking your chances. We came out on the right side of it today. We’ve come out on the wrong side in a few games, with narrow defeats, and this win is amazing. It means everything — playing for that jersey, we’re doing it for all the fans here and everyone back home and the boys were oustanding today.”