Title back on agenda for fired-up Halfpenny
Published 11/02/2013 | 04:00
What a difference 80 mind-numbingly cold, scrappy, error-strewn but undeniably gutsy and ultimately victorious minutes make.
Before this game, Wales were staring gloomily over the precipice after eight consecutive defeats. Now they are talking aggressively about defending their Six Nations championship title to the bitter end.
And why not? Wales will be twice the team after this beautiful, ugly win – and do not be surprised if they kick on dramatically now and arrive back in Cardiff for the England game next month with victories on the road in Rome and Edinburgh under their belts.
As Wales relaxed in Paris on Saturday night, to a man, their body language was positive and confident for the first time this season. Momentum at last.
"It has been tough but hopefully this result will turn things around," said full-back Leigh Halfpenny, again Wales' standout player. "The confidence we get from this win will be immense and we can carry on with our mission of retaining our title as Six Nations champions. Coming into training last Monday after the Ireland match was horrific, but there was a lot of honesty throughout the week and a determination to put things right.
"This is the place, above all others, that you have to stick together to get through and that's what we did. I could see from my position at the back our hunger and desperation to win."
Halfpenny, softly spoken but a voice that commands respect, had his own message during their Monday morning debrief after the Ireland game.
They were letting Rob Howley and the coaches down and had to look at themselves, nobody else, when it came to rectifying the situation.
"I said, 'we are prepared as well as you can be, the coaches give us everything, all the information we need to play and come out on top'," Halfpenny said. "It was up to us to put in the performance on the field. We did that.
"This week now gives us a chance to recover, work on our fitness and conditioning, but we must also get our heads down, we have still got a lot of work to do."
Indeed. Though nothing could disguise the joy and importance of Wales' victory, just about the only moment of top-notch attacking rugby in the game came when George North showed strength and composure to collect Dan Biggar's clever kick ahead to administer the coup de grace with his well-taken try.
It was a reassuring moment of class from the young wing, who has struggled more than most during Wales' bad trot. In his first 17 Tests, North amassed 10 tries. In his last 11 internationals, he has crossed just twice.
Until then, the defences had held sway, although in truth they were rarely tested. France, wantonly ignoring the talent of Wesley Fofana, who has been banished to the wing, bashed it up the middle through Mathieu Bastareaud while Wales, alas, did likewise through Jamie Roberts.
The Cardiff centre might be as big as some second-row forwards, but he is always at his most effective running into space and around people.
Mike Phillips looked much more switched on at scrum-half, which is a big plus for Wales, but the selection dilemmas remain in the back row.
Openside Justin Tipuric was perfectly sound, making his tackles when necessary, but his was not a performance that demanded selection ahead of Sam Warburton next up against Italy.
Meanwhile, Wales have not got the selectorial bolt-hole any more of playing one of those tearaways at blindside flanker. Ryan Jones, an unsung hero of three Grand Slams, was superb on the blindside and as a stand-in captain for Warburton.
Jones has never, and will never, let Wales down. His name should be the first on the team-sheet against Italy. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
France – Y Huget; W Fofana, M Bastareaud, M Mermoz, B Fall (F Trinh-Duc 41); F Michalak, M Machenaud; Y Forestier (V Debaty 51), D Szarzewski (B Kayser 51), N Mas (Ducalcon 56); J Suta (R Taofifenua 66), Y Maestri; F Ouedraogo (D Chouly 52), T Dusautoir, L Picamoles.
Wales – L Halfpenny; A Cuthbert, J Davies, J Roberts (S Williams 79), G North; D Biggar, M Phillips (L Williams 71); G Jenkins (P James 39), R Hibbard (K Owens 56), A Jones (C Mitchell 79); A Coombs, I Evans (L Reed 79); R Jones (A Shingler 79), J Tipuric, T Faletau.
Ref – G Clancey (IRFU).