Never has a coach been so unimpressed by a team who had just put 20 first-half points on his team. Warren Gatland last night blamed Wales for being the "architects of their own demise" and claimed that the French "never stretched us".
The Kiwi, however, was "proud" of his side's display after the break as they threatened to reprise the Millennium miracle of a fortnight before against Scotland and once again overcome a seemingly impossible deficit. "We were 20 points down, victims of our own intercepts, and we could have given it away but I'm proud of what we did in terms of coming back," he said.
"We were the architects of our own demise, however. France never really stretched us, never threatened our line. They got two intercepts and kicked four penalties but never really got into our 22. There was only one team trying to play rugby out there but we just have to stop pushing the self-destruct button. We have a few things to work on to make sure we don't make critical mistakes, but if we hadn't conceded soft tries in the first half it was a game for us to win."
Gatland, however, doubts whether Martin Johnson's Red Rose outfit can stop the French at the Stade de France in three weeks' time. "The French are the favourites now," he said. "With Italy away and England at home, they must be. I'd imagine they'd win the Grand Slam, now, but they will know we lost it for ourselves here. They were out on their feet at the end and will leave here very, very relieved."
In contrast, the Wales team-bus left for their Vale of Glamorgan base dejected in the knowledge there would be no third Six Nations title in six years. The Millennium Stadium believed it was witnessing another dramatic comeback when Shane Williams used those magical sidesteps of his to cross for a try in the final minute. But when Frederic Michalak kept his cool to kick the restart out of touch the match was over. Williams had to be content with scoring his 19th Six Nations try and breaking Gareth Edwards's Welsh record in the process. Not that he ever would be content.
"Scoring tries like that is great but the only thing that mattered was the result," said the wing who was celebrating his 33rd birthday. "If they kicked the ball back to us at the end we might have had another amazing win. It was a bit of deja vu, the way we've started the last three games. It's very frustrating, sometimes you get punished for trying to play rugby. We started positively but those two intercepts made it very difficult for us. Sometimes we try to play too much and it was all catch-up in the second half again."
Marc Lièvremont, the French coach, admitted his side could have lost it in a frenetic second-half which Wales "won" 20-6. "The spectre of the Scottish game was looming before us," said Lièvremont after presiding over France's third win in a row, the first hat-trick in his reign. "It was incredible the difference between the two halves. My emotions are pleasure and relief. Yes, we are delighted to have won three out of three. But that second half showed there is still plenty of work left to do if we are to win the Grand Slam."
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