France vs Wales match report: Dan Biggar and Leigh Halfpenny give Welsh a much-needed victory in Paris cauldron

France 13 Wales 20: In a match that failed to fire until the second half, Biggar crashed over in the corner to put Wales out of touch

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The Independent Online

Masterful mauling and a hammer tackle on Remi Tales by Jamie Roberts – the Welsh centre who earns his living for a Parisian club – was enough to shatter France’s last attack of a tight match and complete a well-deserved fourth Wales win in a row over les Bleus since the reverse result in the 2011 World Cup semi-final. It kept Sam Warburton’s brilliantly obdurate team in the Six Nations title race while almost certainly condemning France to yet more mid-table navel-gazing.

In the build-up Wales’s head coach Warren Gatland had been gently goading a rejigged France side, showing five changes, to try to run wide, but it was the Welsh who did so first until Liam Williams was halted shudderingly by Yoann Huget.

A slightly more direct route brought the first points with six minutes gone. Roberts burst across the gain-line with ball from a line-out, Dan Biggar followed up with a nice flat pass to Jonathan Davies and, as the French scrambled, Romain Taofifenua went off his feet at a ruck. Leigh Halfpenny kicked the goal from 25 metres out.

 

Encouraging as that was for a Wales team already emboldened by a remarkable defensive record against the French – no tries conceded in the past four meetings – they must have been perturbed by their wobbles at the breakdown. The prop Eddy Ben Arous was twice instrumental in turning Wales over, and from the second of these, a penalty led to a line-out from which Camille Lopez cross-kicked to Huget.

The wing’s bat-down was misdirected and with a luckier bounce Halfpenny might have been away for a touchline counter-attack. Instead, France had a penalty in front of the posts and three points for Lopez.

The gargantuan centre Mathieu Bastareuad had been among those dropped by France coach Philippe Saint-André. Bastareaud is a creator of chaos, and while you wonder sometimes whether that bedevils his team-mates as much as the opposition, his sidelining lasted only 16 minutes as his replacement Remi Lamerat went off with a leg injury and Bastareaud lumbered on.

Wales must have been keen to work George North – winning his 50th Test cap – into action, after his layoff due to concussion against England three weeks ago. With Wales boldly attacking wide from scrums, North battered into a clutch of blue jerseys and earned a penalty for the French not rolling away. Halfpenny stroked the kick over from the 22-metre line and on doing so passed two milestones in one go: topping 450 points for Wales and 500 in all Tests when factoring in the Lions.

Morgan-Parra.jpg
Morgan Parra kept France in touch until they conceded a try

France had blown umpteen try chances in beating Scotland here on the first weekend of the championship, and were profligate again in the 33rd minute – Lopez had Huget in space but passed forward. Soon afterwards, North had another gallop but Brice Dulin covered well to haul the wing down. Another lame long-distance miss by Lopez closed the first half out and Walesled 6-3.

France launched into the second period with considerable panache but Wales were organised and resolute. Tit for tat, Lopez and Halfpenny booted a penalty each, following a miss for France by Morgan Parra. Over on Wales’s right flank, North’s worrying recent time spent with a neurologist seemed well behind him, such was the brio of his running.

Watch Dan Bigger's try below...

 

With 58 minutes gone, Biggar fired a drop at goal that hit a post. But the fly-half’s golden moment arrived 60 seconds later, rewarding Welsh positivity, with North again involved in the set-up. Rhys Webb darted round a ruck after Bastareaud’s knock-on, Dan Lydiate – a Racing Metro team-mate of Roberts’s not long ago – made a quick link and Biggar, tracing a clever arcing line in support, ran to the right-hand corner, holding Dulin off. Halfpenny slipped and missed the conversion but a 14-6 lead was precious, added to by Halfpenny’s penalty in the 65th minute.

Concerted French pressure gave Dulin a well-taken diving score from a Lopez pass on 67 minutes, and the fly-half’s conversion had the home crowd believing again. Warburton and Biggar, holding ice to his hip, both came off. But their team were triumphant thanks in part to Halfpenny’s fifth penalty, from a wheeling scrum, and that magnificent last-ditch defence.

Watch Brice Dulin's try below...

 

Line-ups:

France: B Dulin; Y Huget, R Lamerat (M Bastareaud, 17), W Fofana (R Tales, 70), S Guitoune; C Lopez, M Parra (S Tillous-Borde, 53); E Ben Arous (V Debaty, 53), G Guidado (B Kayser, 53), R Slimani (U Atonino, 53), T Taofifenua (J Suta, 62), Y Maestri, T Dusatoir (capt), B Le Roux, D Chouly (L Goujon, 74).

Wales: L Halfpenny; G North, J Davies, J Roberts, L Williams; D Biggar (R Priestland, 76), R Webb; G Jenkins (P James, 70), S Baldwin (R Hibbard, 70), S Lee (A Jarvis, 70-80), L Charteris (B Davies, 70), AW Jones, D Lydiate, S Warburton (capt, J Tipuric, 70), T Faletau.

Referee: J Peyper (South Africa).

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