Wales fall short of epic repeat after late show

Wales 20 France 26: Gatland's side produce rousing second-half fightback but cannot wipe out 20-point deficit gifted to France by interception errors

Just when it seemed the Dragonhood would once again rise from the ashes here in Cardiff last night so reality intervened. France are not Scotland and despite threatening to implode just like the Tartan visitors of two weeks before, they eventually came to their senses. But only just.

The irony was lost on nobody when Frédéric Michalak did what Mike Blair had failed to do and kicked the final restart into touch. Shane Williams had just scored his 19th Six Nations try – a record for Wales – and with the game standing at 26-20 and time for one play left, the Welsh dared to believe again. But where Blair had afforded them the opportunity to launch the thrilling match-winning touchdown, so Michalak coolly trampled all over their hopes and the match ended with a sigh instead of a roar.

Yes, it was an anti-climax, but, in truth, Wales had no-one but themselves to blame. Once again they started in horrible sluggish fashion handing France a 20-0 interval lead with two interception tries. They came back with what is now their trademark mixture of guts and flair, but basic errors were to ultimately end their Championship challenge. Jamie Roberts, like the rest of his nation, will always wonder why he did not pass to James Hook earlier with the try-line begging, the scoreboard reading 20-13 and their opponents down to 14 men. Effectively the match finished there and then. No matter how brilliant Williams's finale.

As it is, France march on with the Grand Slam in their sights. This was the first time in Marc Lièvremont's three-year reign where they have won three Tests on the bounce. With Italy away and then England at home awaiting they will now be strongly fancied to make it the magic five. As long as they can put the memory of this second-half meltdown behind them.

It was an emotional night from the beginning with tears in the minutes before kick-off. Bradley Davies, the young Wales lock, lost his mother last week after a short illness. A minute silence was held in her honour and the players had a tribute stitched into their shirts. The scenario would have wrecked many a player. Not Davies. He played like a man inspired. If only so many of his team-mates could claim the same.

It took Alexis Palisson just six minutes to score France's first try. The Brive wing was the victim of Jerry Flannery's spectacular fly-kick against Ireland in Paris; yet it was Hook who was seemingly dazed and confused when throwing a long pass out to Roberts straight into Palisson's hands for an uninterrupted glory trot.

Wales have made a habit of conceding interceptions just as they have a made a habit of playing catch-up. And when Morgan Parra kicked two penalties they were 13-0 down. In the build-up, Warren Gatland urged his men to hit the ground running. But for the fourth Test in a row, Wales simply hit the ground.

By the break they were all but buried in their own unforced errors. Again it was an interception and again the crassness of its profligacy almost defied belief. They had just survived a French onslaught when the ball was turned over and handed to Shane Williams. With time up, all that was necessary was for the wing to kick it into touch. Instead Shane went for it, flinging up a ridiculous pass from the floor. This time François Trinh-Duc was there to collect and take his stroll between the posts. Twenty points down, with Gallic dominance almost complete. A Welsh fight back was out of the question. But...

Following the Scotland Lazarus act, the Millennium faithful certainly still believed and when Hook cut through as the game restarted a momentum-swinging try was pending. Alas, Luke Charteris knocked on and all Wales could take away was a Stephen Jones penalty. But then they came again and their new-found directness was rewarded by another Jones penalty. Was another great escape in the offing? The French were beginning to look ragged; the game was going flip-flop.

But then Wales lost their own lineout five yards out and then Lee Byrne inexplicably kicked a penalty the wrong side of the French corner flag. The time was ticking. Yet not as quickly as the visitors were capitulating. In the 63rd minute came a passage of play which suddenly and ever so remarkably established Wales as the favourites. Shane Williams put in Leigh Halfpenny at the corner but as the euphoria promised to blow off the roof the realisation hit home that Parra had also been sent to the sin-bin for deliberately knocking-on in the move. When Jones converted Wales were within a score and had a man advantage. It was déjà vu all over again.

There was nothing to stop Wales when Roberts ran on to Jones' kick. With one defender to beat and with Hook alongside, a game-tying try appeared academic. But Roberts bafflingly hesitated, Hook was forced to switch inside and when the pass came it was under pressure and was knocked on. Michalak then landed two penalties and with the gap back to 13 life drained out of the resurgence. Until Williams' miraculous last-second run, that is. It meant Wales had lost by a whisker. In all honesty it was a long whisker.

Scorers: Wales Tries Halfpenny, S Williams; Conversions S Jones (2); Penalties S Jones (2); ). France: Tries Palisson, Trinh-Duc; Conversions Parra 2; Penalties Parra 3, Michalak.

Wales: L Byrne (Ospreys); L Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues), J Hook (Ospreys), J Roberts (Cardiff Blues), S Williams (Ospreys); S Jones (Scarlets), R Rees (Cardiff Blues); P James (Ospreys), H Bennett (Ospreys), A Jones (Ospreys), B Davies (Cardiff Blues), D Jones (Cardiff Blues), J Thomas (Ospreys), M Williams (Cardiff Blues), R Jones (Ospreys, capt). Replacements used: L Charteris (Dragons) for D Jones, 24.

France: C Poitrenaud (Toulouse); J Malzieu (Clermont Auvergne), M Bastareaud (Stade Français), Y Jauzion (Toulouse), A Palisson (Brive); F Trinh-Duc (Montpellier), M Parra (Clermont Auvergne); T Domingo (Clermont Auvergne), W Servat (Toulouse), N Mas (Perpignan), L Nallet (Racing-Metro), J Pierre (Clermont Auvergne), T Dusautoir (Toulouse, capt), J Bonnaire (Clermont Auvergne), I Harinordoquy (Biarritz). Replacements used: D Szarzewski (Stade Français) for Servat, 52; J-B Poux (Toulouse) for Domingo, 55; S Chabal (Racing Metro) for Pierre, 63; F Michalak (Toulouse) for Trinh-Duc, 64; D Marty (Perpignan) for Bastareaud, 69, A Lapandry (Clermont) for Harinordoquy, 69.

Referee: J Kaplan (South Africa).

BUY RUGBY WORLD CUP TICKETS

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy