Sport Rugby

Saturday 17 February 2018

North points the way to stun France

George North celebrates scoring a try with Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies
George North celebrates scoring a try with Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies

Paul Rees

Wales not only ended a run of eight successive defeats but enjoyed their biggest victory in Paris since 1975.

Wales 16

Wales not only ended a run of eight successive defeats but enjoyed their biggest victory in Paris since 1975.

There was not much running yesterday, the one try coming from a kick to the line, but so abject were France, who are in danger of claiming the wooden spoon with trips to England and Ireland to follow, that the men in red did not need to hold the ball as much as their nerve.

Snow had fallen in the morning and a chill wind swirled around the ground, but there was never a threat of a repeat of a year ago when the match against Ireland here was called off just before the start because of a frozen pitch.

France went three points up through a Frederic Michalak penalty, awarded after Adam Jones had lost his footing on the soft surface for the second time, but Wales were winning most of the penalties and equalised when, after Mathieu Bastareaud felled Jamie Roberts, Wesley Fofana strayed off-side and Leigh Halfpenny took advantage.

France were stung into a response. Maxime Mermoz made a half-break, Bastareaud made a whole one when he realised he did not have to go through Adam Jones because he could outpace him, but the home side struggled at the breakdown, and Wales gradually grew in confidence.

They didn't threaten much however, having little to offer other than getting Toby Faletau, Jamie Roberts or George North to bash their way up a congested middle, and switched to an aerial bombardment.

They came within a few metres of the France line after driving another Justin Tipuric lineout only to again lose control of the ball. France countered through Benjamin Fall, whose kick into Wales territory was gathered by Halfpenny, who held on to the ball after being smothered. Clancy played the shortest advantage ever, waving play on after one wasteful kick. If there had been a game to kill, Clancy would have faced a murder rap.

Wales should have been ahead at the interval, taking play through 11 phases and into France's 22, but they again failed to show any wit and when Dan Biggar retreated for his second attempt at a drop goal, Mike Phillips's pass took so long to arrive that the fly-half decided to run and found trouble. The half-time whistle was a relief.

France were booed off at half-time. But the jeering was louder when Francois Trinh-Duc, a half-time replacement for Fall, wasted a lineout drive with a drop-goal attempt that never threatened to find the target. Wales were by then ahead, Halfpenny kicking his second penalty after Dimitri Szarzewski found himself on the wrong side of a ruck.

There was greater urgency about the home side. If that was not saying much because they could hardly have shown less, like Wales they were not burdened by imagination. There were times when it was like watching the England of old, pods of forwards lying on one side of the breakdown ready to take the ball and flop to the ground.

They only looked remotely dangerous when they brought Fofana into the midfield from deep. The penalties started to go France's way with Wales struggling to keep their footing in the scrum with the pitch cutting up badly. The first cost them their lead with Michalak on target from 40 metres and the second a good attacking position after Ryan Jones, as if demonstrating to his backs that they were showing little in the way of variety, found touch in the home 22 with a deft kick.

The France coach, Philippe Saint-Andre, had deployed six of his replacements within 14 minutes of the second-half, but there was no discernible difference. The game struggled to meander, never mind flow. Who would concede the vital penalty?

Suddenly, with 10 minutes to go, Wales increased the tempo of the game, substantially. Wales put more depth to their attacks and won quicker ruck ball. They started to stretch France and when they reached the 22, Biggar reacted to a rush defence by chipping to the left-hand corner where North picked up and rode Fofana's challenge.

France were wondering what had happened when they gave away yet another penalty at the breakdown and Halfpenny stretched his side's lead to 10 points. The boos rang out again and will continue as long as Saint-Andre has France trying to play as Sale did under him.


Scorers – Wales: North try; Halfpenny 3 pens, con. France: Michalak 2 pens. 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.

Referee: G Clancey (IRFU).

Irish Independent

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