France 13 Wales 20
Wales claimed a fourth successive RBS 6 Nations victory over France as they powered home in Paris and kept alive their title hopes.
Wales, aiming to be crowned Six Nations champions for a third time in the last four years, triumphed 20-13 through fly-half Dan Biggar's second-half try and five Leigh Halfpenny penalties. France delivered a 68th-minute try for full-back Brice Dulin, with fly-half Camille Lopez kicking a conversion and two penalties, but hopes of Six Nations silverware ended amid a fine Wales performance.
After losing to England in their opening Six Nations game, Wales are now firmly back on track. Prospects of claiming another Six Nations title are still out of their hands, but successive wins against Scotland and France have put them in the mix, setting them up nicely for appointments with Ireland and Italy next month. Captain Sam Warburton led his team superbly, and there were a number of admirable displays alongside him, with the likes of lock Alun-Wyn Jones, flanker Dan Lydiate and scrum-half Rhys Webb also playing starring roles.
And Wales also displayed the composure to close out the match after France had threatened a late comeback, but Les Bleus were once again left frustrated as coach Philippe Saint-Andre’s reign continues to fall away. France dominated early territory and their fired-up approach was underlined through a crunching tackle by wing Yoann Huget on his opposite number Liam Williams.
Wales soon settled, though, and, after moving smoothly through the phases, they went ahead in the seventh minute when Halfpenny landed an opening penalty. Given that it was a win-or-bust game for both teams, with the losers knowing they would no longer be in Six Nations title contention, there was plenty of admirable attacking adventure on show. Lopez looked to unlock the
Wales defence by mixing his kicking and running approach, yet the visitors, having not conceded a try against Les Bleus in the countries’ last four meetings, held firm through impressive organisation. Lopez then drew France level through a short-range penalty, and there was an early introduction off the bench for powerhouse centre Mathieu Bastareaud as the opening quarter ended 3-3.
Clermont Auvergne number 10 Lopez missed a chance to put France ahead when he rifled a 24th-minute penalty attempt wide, and there remained little to choose between the teams as Wales burst into Les Bleus’ 22 following centre Jonathan Davies’ kick and chase that had the home side back-pedalling.
It gave Wales an attacking scrum and they used possession well, spinning it wide in an attempt to free wing George North, but France infringed and Halfpenny kicked the resulting penalty to take him past 450 points for Wales.
Wales were well and truly into their stride, with their forwards securing plenty of front-foot ball for Webb to utilise, but France came storming back as Huget powered over the try-line. However, referee Jaco Peyper correctly ruled a forward pass during build-up play.
It was a warning to Wales, though, as the half ended with matters still very much in the melting pot. France changed their goal kicker at the start of the second period, with Parra taking over from Lopez, but he also failed to find the target and Wales preserved their three-point advantage.
Lopez then regained the job seven minutes later, and he hauled France level, only for Wales to edge back in front when Halfpenny completed his penalty hat-trick. It was a real nip-and-tuck contest, with neither side able to break clear on the scoreboard, but the Wales pack — roundly criticised after the defeat against England three weeks ago — began to take charge.
The Wales scrum consistently held up well and attacking opportunities began to increase on the back of that set-piece solidity, but it remained 9-6 heading into the final quarter.
Wales then stunned France by scoring the opening try with 20 minutes left, and it came from a trademark Webb break. The Ospreys number nine burst clear into space, found Lydiate in support and his pass sent Biggar scampering clear to touch down in the corner and claimed a first Wales try in his 31st Test.
Halfpenny failed to land the difficult conversion attempt, but he was back on target just five minutes later, kicking a fourth successful penalty as Wales opened up a 17-6 advantage.
But such a healthy lead did not last long as France hit back when they recycled possession wide quickly and Dulin dived over to score. It was France’s first try try against Wales in five Tests, and Lopez booted the conversion to leave the home side just four points adrift, but Halfpenny then kicked his fifth penalty to see Wales home.