Brave Welsh comeback falls just shy
FRANCE finally made it three wins in a row for the first time under coach Marc Lievremont, but they suffered a thousand agonies as Wales staged one of their trademark comebacks.
Eventually the French prevailed and with home games against Italy and England, French supporters can begin to contemplate a Grand Slam.
Down and out at half-time when they trailed 20-0, Wales belatedly got their act together, just as they did against Scotland a fortnight ago. France began to lose their heads as Wales steadily pegged them back through the boot of Stephen Jones and a well-taken try by Leigh Halfpenny and order was only restored when substitute Freddie Michalak, not the first man you would turn to in a crisis, kept his nerve and nudged over a 35-metre penalty to steady the ship.
The French finally reached safe waters when Morgan Parra, returning from the sin-bin, gratefully added another penalty. It was just as well because Shane Williams struck in the final minute to score his 50th international try and break Gareth Edwards's Welsh record of 18 championship tries.
A minute's silence in memory of Bradley Davies's mother Cheryl, who died last week.
The first 40 minutes were a nightmare for everybody in the Welsh camp. James Hook aimed an unnecessary miss pass to Jamie Roberts with barely five minutes on the clock, which Alexis Palisson read like a book, snaffled and sprinted home from 50 yards. Parra added the simple conversion.
A big hit from Roberts on Imanol Harinordoquy lifted Welsh spirits briefly but a tardemark surge from Mathieu Bastareaud, an extraordinary bull of a young man, put France on the attack and Martyn Williams felt he could only salvage the situation by illegally preventing release of the ball.
Parra stroked the resulting penalty from 45 metres. With little to shout about, the 74,500 capacity crowd had gone eerily quiet and it took a scything break from Stephen Jones before they found their voices again.
Again, Wales were forced to offend when put under pressure from a Yannick Jauzion charge and Richie Rees was adjudged, to have gone over the top. Parra again stepped up to score.
Wales were already having to play catch-up and on the stroke of half-time they paid dearly for that with Shane Williams, trying desperately to make something happen, off-loaded out of a Jauzion tackle when perhaps he should have chosen the safe option.
The ball ballooned up and the alert Francois Trinh-Duc did exceptionally well to pluck the ball from behind him to sprint 40 yards for a second interception try, Parra adding the extras.
Twenty points down at half-time, it was going to take the biggest comeback in Six Nations history to claw this one back for Wales.
Wales finally got on the scoreboard when Stephen Jones was on target from in front of the posts, the simple penalty seeing the Llanelli man go past Neil Jenkins as Wales record points scorer in championship rugby with 408. Better still, he added another moments later.
The crowd started to believe after a try by Leigh Halfpenny, a long quickfire pass from Shane Williams outfoxing the France defence. Stephen Jones added the extras. Surely not again. No, not quite. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
Wales -- L Byrne; L Halfpenny, J Hook, J Roberts, S Williams; S Jones, R Rees; P James, H Bennett, A Jones; B Davies, D Jones (L Charteris 24); J Thomas; M Williams, R Jones.
France -- C Poitrenaud (M Andreu 77); J Malzieu, M Bastareaud (D Marty 69), Y Jauzion, A Palisson; F Trinh-Duc (F Michalak 63), M Parra; T Domingo (JB Poux 54), W Servat (D Szarzewski 51), N Mas; L Nallet, J Pierre (S Chabal 65); T Dusautoir, J Bonnaire, I Harinordoquy (A Lapandry 69).
Ref -- J Kaplan (South Africa).