France find a way to lose as North pounces
France 19 Wales 24
Even by French standards, this surrender of a 16-point half-time lead will take some digesting. Credit Wales for their perseverance, but France simply imploded with George North scoring two tries off horrendous individual mistakes to get their Six Nations up and running.
North himself was guilty of a poor defensive error that allowed Yoann Huget to score in a first half in which Wales barely fired a shot. Trust France to blast those bullets for them into both feet, as North first pounced on Huget's knock-on and then intercepted Sebastian Vahaamahina's ludicrously ambitious pass late on after France had regained the lead at 19-16. It was suicidal from France, who remain the most frustrating of teams to watch. So much talent, so little clue.
As for Wales, head coach Warren Gatland will know they got away with one here. Half-backs Gareth Anscombe and Tomos Williams struggled to exert any control and were replaced by Dan Biggar and Gareth Davies in the second half.
Gatland had said victory here will set them up for a title in his first Six Nations in charge. Who is to doubt him now with England and Ireland due to visit Cardiff?
They dominated the scrum against a 150-stone pack that rates as the heaviest in Championship history, while the back-row of Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric and Ross Moriarty were monsters in defence.
Captain Alun Wyn Jones had stressed the importance of a fast start. Even a French side who have slipped to ninth in the world are a dangerous proposition with momentum on their side.
Teeming And that's exactly what Les Bleus got in the teeming rain. Huget made the initial thrust down the left and Romain Ntamack, the 19-year-old making his debut, then danced towards the Wales tryline. Play was switched left and when it came back, Picamoles cut inside to score.
Wales needed a spark and they appeared to have got it when flanker Josh Navidi forced a turnover before Liam Williams dived for the line but the ball slipped from his grasp under pressure from Picamoles. The try was duly disallowed.
Instead, France extended their lead. Some delicious midfield interplay put flanker Arthur Iturria in space on the left. Wales still had numbers in defence, at least they did before George North bit in from his wing allowing Iturria to produce a superb offload to Huget who had a simple run-in. Morgan Parra missed the afters but Camille Lopez kicked a penalty and drop goal for a 16-0 half-time lead.
Whatever was said by Gatland and company in changing room had its desired effect. Josh Adams spotted an indiscernible gap and as he put on the after-burners, Tomos Williams tracked the run and accepted his pass to score.
If that try came out of nothing then Wales' next score arrived complete with wrapping paper and gift-tag. Hadleigh Parkes' grubber behind the French defensive line appeared to be easily covered by Huget only for the wing to cough the ball up allowing North to gleefully touch down. The lead was suddenly two points.
France hit back but there would be one further twist as with seven minutes to go Vahaamahina attempted a crazy pass and North ran it in from more than 50 metres. (© Daily Telegraph, London)