They came chasing a miracle, but found themselves chasing French shadows. So much for the dreams of a Six Nations title. This heavy defeat saw Wales finishing down in fourth. Again.
What a miserable finale this was for Warren Gatland's men, who put in easily their worst performance of a campaign supposedly put back on track by three wins in a row.
"It was a very disappointing performance," Gatland said. "There were too many turnovers in the opposition's half and too many soft penalties. We didn't turn up tonight. We had an opportunity but didn't front up in the right mental state."
Not only do Wales find themselves below England, France and Ireland for the third time in as many Championships but there is internal strife too. Shaun Edwards, the defence coach, has been suspended after an alleged altercation with a member of the backroom staff. Cue recrimination, despite the camp's refusal to comment.
That is all Edwards's boss needs to take into the summer, with the World Cup beckoning. In contrast, this was just what the France coach, Marc Lièvremont, required after a brutal seven days following a loss to Italy. The French responded, finishing as runners-up themselves and in the process making a mockery of Welsh hopes that they could force the 27-point win they needed after the result in Ireland. Unlikely? Try impossible.
There was some hope from the history books. Wales's biggest win in France was 49-14. Except that came more than 100 years ago. Since the inception of the Six Nations, their largest margin of victory in Paris was eight points. Not to say the Stade de France had been an unhappy ground for the Dragonhood. Indeed, they went into this game having played six here and won three. The memory of the comeback that led to the 2005 Grand Slam burnt brightest, particularly when Wales went in 11-3 down. Six years before it had been 15-6. One point's difference.
That was what the scoreboard said, anyway. It felt tighter, regardless of how scrappy it was. Indeed, had the home fly-half, François Trinh-Duc, not produced a despairing tap tackle which got the faintest of touches on Leigh Halfpenny's achilles, the young wing would have been under the posts.
Saying that, France had their chances in this opening period too, not least when David Marty, the Perpignan centre, was dragged down by Paul James with the line begging. The Welsh defence stayed solid until a few minutes before the break when Hook was isolated in his own half and coughed the ball up for the lock Lionel Nallet to charge over, to the satisfaction of the video referee. All Wales had to show for their efforts was a Hook penalty and their task had been made more difficult by the early exit of Sam Warburton, the impressive flanker, with a knee injury. Somewhere in Dublin, the English started to party. Or perhaps not.
Hook narrowed the deficit with a penalty, but just as soon he lengthened it when his kick was charged down by Julien Pierre. He expertly fed the ball to Nallet, his second-row partner, to stroll in for his second try.
Hook repaired some of the damage with a long penalty but the French pack were putting on the squeeze. Trinh-Duc put the lead back to 12 and the mathematics began to loom. Lose by more than nine and Wales would fall to third in the table; lose by more than 13 and they would fall to fourth.
Hook virtually ensured it was to be the latter, picking up a yellow card for a dangerous tackle. It looked marginal, but he never reappeared. It compounded a desperate evening for the Perpignan-bound Welshman, who had made such strides since assuming the playmaking role. His misery was made all the starker by his opposite number. With Hook in the bin, Trinh-Duc put in a glorious chip for Vincent Clerc to catch and score.
So much for Gatland's game plan and the belief that the French pack would run out of steam. As "La Marseillaise" rang out they were pumping, the volume rising when an audacious Welsh attack involving Halfpenny and the midfield pair of Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies was repelled. When Stephen Jones appeared to make up the numbers, there was no way through.
France M Médard; V Clerc (Y Huget, 75), D Marty, D Traille (F Estebanez, 70), A Palisson; F Trinh-Duc, M Parra (J Tomas, 73); T Domingo (Mas, 77), W Servat (G Guirado, 70), N Mas (L Ducalcon, 66), J Pierre (P Pape, 66), L Nallet, T Dusautoir (capt), I Harinordoquy (A Lapandry, 72), J Bonnaire.
Wales L Byrne; L Halfpenny, J Roberts, J Davies, G North; J Hook (S Jones, 66), M Phillips (Peel, 67); P James, M Rees (Hibbard, 67) (capt), A Jones (J Yapp, 52), B Davies, AW Jones, D Lydiate, R Jones, S Warburton (J Thomas, 15; R McCusker, 71).
Referee C Joubert (South Africa).Reuse content