France 19-24 Wales: The visitors headed into the second half 16 points down but launched an impressive fightback that culimated with a late second try from North to seal the win
Warren Gatland had claimed in the run-up to this match that a Wales win in Paris would be the springboard for them to go on to lift the Six Nations title.
This win in the most dramatic of fashions – crowned by George North who scored twice – could yet prove to be some launch pad. It was just a remarkable game.
Wales looked dead and buried at half time as they as they were beaten up and outplayed by a revitalised France who scored twice through Louis Picamoles and Yoann Huget.
Their lead should have been more, but Morgan Parra missed three kicks. Somehow, Gatland saw his Wales team rise like a phoenix from the ashes as they launched a stunning comeback.
They could hardly have been worse than they were before the break, but in the second half Tomos Williams got them back into it and North’s stunning double plus two conversions from Gareth Anscombe and five points from Dan Biggar gave them the win.
Gatland – rightly – was a confident man ahead of kick-off with his team on a nine-match unbeaten run, ranked third in the world, and having won six of their last seven meetings with Les Bleus.
France meanwhile handed a Test debut to 19-year-old Toulouse rookie Romain Ntamack – the son of legendary former wing Emile – in midfield.
Ntamack was listed on the team sheet at outside centre despite being named in the week at No 12, but his team were soon ahead. Wales spilled the ball from a set-piece move and France capitalised.
They spread the ball left and then right with No 8 Picamoles given too much room out wide to finish despite a despairing Liam Williams tackle attempt.
Morgan Parra couldn’t convert and the scrum-half then followed it with a penalty miss after Josh Adams was penalised at a ruck. Anscombe was also awry with Wales’ first shot at goal.
After a poor start, Wales finally woke up but even then things weren’t going their way.
Anscombe and Hadleigh Parkes combined to send full-back Williams away and he made it to the line only to have been judged by the TMO to have spilled the ball in the process of scoring.
It was unfortunate for the Saracens ace, but the truth was Wales’ forwards were being blown away up front, just as they had been in the first quarter in Paris in 2017. Huget soon made it two.
The try was made by flanker Arthur Iturria. Receiving the ball under pressure, Iturria drew both Anscombe and George North and released Huget with a simple yet sublime pass. He did the rest.
Parra again couldn’t convert and Anscombe missed a second Welsh penalty effort before Lopez took over French kicking duties to slot a simple three-pointer and then with the last kick off the half, he also landed a supreme drop goal. A 16-0 interval lead was the least France deserved.
Gatland kept faith with Anscombe and half-back partner Tomos Williams – who looked like a rabbit in the headlights in the first period – for the second half. It paid off.
Out of nowhere, Wales gave themselves a lifeline. Josh Adams side-stepped through the French defence with a moment of magic and Tomos Williams was there in support to slide over.
Anscombe converted and it soon got even better as Wales started the comeback trail. From a scrum, Parkes kicked ahead. Huget ran back to cover but inexplicably spilled the ball trying to collect.
North was following up well and profited to score. Anscombe kicked the goal.
All of a sudden it was 16-14 and Gatland introduced new half backs in Gareth Davies and Biggar with the game on a knife-edge.
Ross Moriaty then had a try ruled out for blocking by Alun Wyn Jones but after Lopez caught the kicking yips, Biggar stepped up to calmly boot Wales into the lead for the first time.
A giant French scrum won the hosts a penalty and Lopez slotted it for what looked like the winning kick but there was still time for more late drama.
With the hosts on the attack, Sebasien Vahaamahina threw a speculative long pass and North read it like a book to intercept and run in from inside his own half.
Biggar converted to silence the Stade de France. From there, Wales held off late French pressure to get off to a winning start in style.