Welsh make most of French errors
Wales 14 France 13
Rarely have a side clinched second place in the Six Nations with less conviction. Wales were outplayed for vast tracts of this game, but are indebted to France for allowing them not only to stay in the game but to hold the lead for the vast majority of it.
Wales could not score a single point in the second half, such was France's stranglehold. But for the personal hell of François Trinh-Duc, who was all over the place for all but the two moments he sparked 10 of France's points, Wales would surely have lost. If France can take any consolation from this it is that their losing bonus point condemns England to the ignominy of fifth place.
It has been a bitter-sweet championship for the French. Much improved though they are, they are still plagued by familiar failings, principally the ease with which they offer up points to the opposition. The first half was classic. Wales had to do precious little to acquire their 14 points. It was a similar story in round one this year. How differently this championship might have panned out if the French had not gifted Johnny Sexton so many penalty shots in Paris. Penalties are one thing if they are forced by opposition excellence, but France yield too many for no real reason at all.
And France's 10 points of the first half were all earned through their own endeavours. Francois Trinh-Duc's soaring drop goal in only the fourth minute set the scoreboard in motion, but within seconds he'd handed the advantage back to the hosts. Geoffrey Doumayrou opted not to go for the restart, which bounced short of the 10, and Alun Wyn Jones nicked in to claim the ball. Scott Williams's chip through was wicked, but Trinh-Duc ought to have reacted better when it bounced up in his face. He missed it completely, and Liam Williams had the game's first try.
A nothing penalty by each of France's locks allowed Halfpenny to stretch Wales's lead to 11-3, before France struck in the most elegant fashion. A smart inside ball by Gael Fickou set Adrien Pelissie away, and after further deft support play Trinh-Duc sent Fickou streaking through the bedraggled Welsh defence for a beauty of a try. It was rugby of a different class. Alas, France offered up another penalty for Halfpenny on the half-hour for Wales's four-point lead at the break.
France came out for the second half with purpose. They claimed almost all the possession of the third quarter, midway through which they brought on Camille Chat and Rabah Slimani, the former offering real punch in the loose, the latter taking over at scrum time. Had Trinh-Duc not been suffering one of his days, as loose as he can be brilliant, they might have really made it tell.
As it is, they closed the deficit to just the one point with a Maxime Machenaud penalty, having played the ball out of their own half and worked the phases. Still they tried to give Wales every chance, one forward pass from Trinh-Duc unforgivable, but such was France's dominance at the scrum that a penalty was never far away.
Marco Tauleigne broke clear through a thicket of Wales defenders to force Liam Williams into conceding a penalty. With Machenaud off, up stepped Trinh-Duc - and the subsequent miss summed up his day. That was the final straw; he was off.
As the game built to its dénouement, Wales finally managed to get their hands on the ball, even to keep it for more than a few phases. One more turnover penalty, won by Chat, as Wales tried to run the clock down, offered France one last chance, but Aaron Shingler rose to steal the lineout. With it, he claimed second place and the riches that go with it. Wales will be grateful.
Scorers - Wales: L Williams try; Halfpenny 3 pens; France: Fickou try; Machenaud pen, con; Trinh-Duc drop-goal.
Wales: Halfpenny; North, S Williams, Parkes, L Williams; Biggar, G Davies; R Evans, Owens, Francis, Hill, A Jones, Tipuric, Navidi, Faletau. Reps: Dee, Smith, Lee, B Davies, Shingler, A Davies, Anscombe, S Evans.
France: Fall; Fickou, Bastareaud, Doumayrou, Grosso; Trinh-Duc, Machenaud; Poirot, Pelissie, Gomes Sa, Gabrillagues, Vahaamahina, Lauret, Camara, Tauleigne. Reps: Chat, Priso, Slimani, Le Roux, Babillot, Palis, Couilloud, Beauxis.
Referee: B O'Keeffe (NZ)
Sunday Indo Sport