Six Nations: France 20-18 Wales
What's hot and what's not from Wales' final Six Nations game against France
The two Camilles struck in the 100th minute – yes, 100th minute – to condemn Wales to defeat in Paris. Camille Chat was awarded the try (others thought it was Damien Chouly who actually touched down!) as France burrowed over from close range and Camille Lopez slotted the conversion in a bizarre ending to a rather poor Six Nations game.
Six penalties from Leigh Halfpenny had Wales leading 18-13 going into the closing stages, but a penalty five metres from the Welsh line in the 80th minute resulted in a series of scrums (and further penalties), a yellow card for Samson Lee (the game went on for so long he returned from the bin!), controversy over replacements (was Uini Atonio injured when he was replaced by Rabah Slimani in added time?) and even a claim of biting from George North.
In all it was a pretty farcical additional 20 minutes and the Wales back-room team were clearly unhappy with the handling of certain areas by the officials, but in the end it was France who came away with the victory.
Halfpenny’s boot – Leigh Halfpenny has struggled to hit his usual high standards since returning from injury, but in Paris he found form with his boot, kicking half his six penalties from just a metre or two inside the French half. The confidence he no doubt gained from his goalkicking then showed in the rest of his game – he was far more prevalent in Wales’ attack than in previous games and was solid at the back too. A vintage display from the boot for the full-back, if not a vintage match overall.
(A few) flashes of brilliance – It’s hard to hail the attacking consistency of either team but there were sparks here and there, particularly from les Bleus. France started like a train but then went off the rails, handling errors preventing them from converting scoring opportunities into points. Remi Lamerat scored the opening try when collecting a Camille Lopez chip kick and Gael Fickou was prominent, hitting the line at pace and trying to find support runners, but the back-line simply weren’t accurate enough.
Wales, on the other hand, were pretty solid in defence, scrambling well, but had only one try-scoring opportunity. Dan Biggar’s pass to George North was knocked on by Virimi Vakatawa in the tackle, earning the France winger a questionable yellow card, and the chance was gone. Overall, it was not a great advert for attacking rugby.
Howley’s leadership – At the final whistle it looked like Dan Biggar was going to walk straight into the changing room such was the fly-half’s ire at those decisions late on, but Wales coach Rob Howley appeared to tell him to go back onto the field and complete the traditional post-match handshakes and players’ tunnel. Fair play.
Brassed off! – The brass bands at either end of the ground were great at firing up the crowd at pertinent moments. A much more welcome addition than the music pumped out over the loud speakers.
Ball control – Both sides were guilty of this but Wales especially. Loose passes, knock-ons and, most of all, a lack of protection at the contact area resulted in the break down of attacks and turnovers. It was scrappy at times. Passes needed to be crisper and more accurate when space was found out wide. And the Welsh needed to be more aware of goings-on at the breakdown to ensure they didn’t allow France to either overpower them or pinch the ball when it had come out of the ruck. Those sort of errors equal opportunities lost.
The Welsh scrum – Wales struggled at scrum time from the first ‘crouch, touch, set’. The French power was obvious and at times overwhelming, with Wales conceding several penalties in that area. That came to the fore in the closing minutes with double-figure penalties awarded to France in that added time period and Wayne Barnes must have been close to going a step further and awarding a penalty try. Wales were not helped by the fact both their starting locks had gone off injured so they had Luke Charteris packing down in the engine room with Taulupe Faletau.
There were collapses, resets, substitution controversies and more in those closing minutes where France were camped deep in Wales’ 22 and it was pretty chaotic at certain points – Barnes had to go over to the fourth official to find out what was happening with regards replacements. In the end, 20 minutes past the 80 mark, French managed to squeeze over from close range and the final whistle finally blew.
The controversy is likely to go on much longer, however. Rob Howley questioned the process that saw Rabah Slimani replace Uini Atonio for an HIA during that series of scrums late on, particularly as Slimani was seen warming up before the replacement happened.
“Integrity in this game is pretty important and player welfare is equally important,” said Howley. “What happened in the last ten minutes shouldn’t happen again on an international rugby field. The process leading up to the change of the French tighthead coming off… we love our game too much to have those decisions and ultimately the outcome of the game is hugely disappointing.
“He was warming up prior to going back on. One of their coaches was outside the technical area and had a conversation with the doctor. He’s then gone on to taken the tighthead off. The evidence suggests it wasn’t in the integrity if our game.”
There is still a lot of confusion. Guy Noves would not confirm what Atonio’s injury was in his post-match press conference. Howley said the prop was heard on the referee’s mike saying he had a sore back but was fine. Then it appears he was taken off for an HIA. This one is set to run.
Attention spans – The French crowd were vocal in their cheers (when France did something liked) and jeers (when Wales did something they didn’t), but they didn’t remain engage – until those final 20 minutes. The Mexican wave made an early appearance in the first half and the dance music played by a live DJ before kick-off and at half-time was completely unnecessary.
France: B Dulin; N Nakaitaci, R Lamerat F Trinh-Duc 66), G Fickou, V Vakatawa (Y Huget 55); C Lopez (F Trinh-Duc 33-39), B Serin (A Dupont 19-25, 72); C Baille (U Atonio 55), G Guirado (capt, C Chat 72), R Slimani (E Ben Arous 55), S Vahaamahina (J Le Devedec 77), Y Maestri, F Sanconnie (D Chouly 55), K Gourdon, L Picamoles.
Tries: Lamerat, Chat. Cons: Lopez 2. Pens: Lopez 2.
Yellow card: Vakatawa (19min).
Wales: L Halfpenny (T Francis 86-93); G North, J Davies, S Williams (J Roberts 54), L Williams; D Biggar, R Webb; R Evans (N Smith 98), K Owens, T Francis (S Lee 60), J Ball (S Baldwin 60, Moriarty 72), AW Jones (capt, L Charteris 52), S Warburton, J Tipuric, R Moriarty (T Faletau 54).
Pens: Halfpenny 6.
Yellow card: Lee (83min).
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