France overpower Wales in timely reminder of their brutal beauty

Wales 24-45 France: France’s bench might told as Wales were overwhelmed in another valiant defeat

Harry Latham-Coyle
at the Principality Stadium
Sunday 10 March 2024 18:04 GMT
France secured victory thanks to a final-quarter surge in Cardiff
France secured victory thanks to a final-quarter surge in Cardiff (Getty)

Rumours of France’s demise appear to have been exaggerated. This will not be a Six Nations to remember for Fabien Galthie’s side regardless of how they fare against England next week, the title all but out of reach even with a bonus point victory here in Cardiff, but this was a timely reminder of some of the brutal beauty that so characterised their build towards the home World Cup.

A clash of French Goliaths and Welsh Davids ended with the travelling titans standing tall. Wales had ducked and weaved so impressively for 60 minutes, opening up an advantage over their visitors, but it always felt like a haymaker might come.

France’s forward megafauna came to the fore, landing the heavy blows required to put a madcap contest to bed. Replacement forwards Georges-Henri Colombe and Romain Taofifenua picked up where Uini Atonio and impressive debutant Emmanuel Meafou had left off to eventually overpower and overwhelm their hosts, France in the end securing a record victory at the Principality Stadium.

France’s forward megafauna did the damage to quell a spirited Wales (Getty)

Much has been made of the hosts’ youth movement but this was a similarly tender French squad, outcapped in the 23 by their counterparts and with four backline starters barely out of their teens. As Italy and England showed yesterday, wins on the road do not come easy and for bright young things like lively scrum-half Nolann Le Garrec and tidy centre Nicolas Depoortere, this may yet be looked back on as a foundational performance from which they can build. For Wales, it was a familiarly valiant defeat but with an improving Italy here next week, a winless Six Nations could yet transpire.

If there were fears that this might represent something of a comedown from a vintage Six Nations Saturday, fears were allayed in a helter-skelter, harum-scarum first half hour that featured two tries for each side. With the roof shut to keep out the lingering mizzle of a murky morning in Cardiff and a true surface ripe for running rugby, both sides warmed quickly to the task.

Sam Costelow and Thomas Ramos traded penalties to get the scoring under way before Wales inflicted the first flesh wound. Adam Beard’s seemingly aimless toss backwards allowed a blue wave of French defenders to come forward, but Rio Dyer, having scooped the ball up off his shoelaces, jet-skied between would-be tacklers, leaving the chasers treading water in his wake.

Rio Dyer raced away for Wales’s opening try (Getty)

It wasn’t long, though, before France had a try of their own. Ramos’s second penalty had narrowed the gap to four points and Gael Fickou’s score in the corner took the visitors in front, Atonio and Meafou creating craters in midfield before the gargantuan lock’s soft hands helped open a corner for Ramos, Damian Penaud and Fickou to exploit.

By this stage, it was end-to-end stuff. Tomos Williams was a second Welsh scorer skipping beneath the sticks, the beneficiary of some neat footwork from Owen Watkin and some shockingly soft French fringe defence. The visiting attack was rather sharper, Le Garrec dummying and diving for the line and a second France try having put Wales in bother with a clever dabbed box kick.

The two sides returned to their corners in need of a breather, knowing that the respite would be temporary in a madcap contest showing no signs of slowing. Wales landed the first blow of the second 40, a neat flurry of passes between Costelow and Tommy Reffell sending Williams within a metre of a second score; Joe Roberts, dynamic throughout on his Six Nations debut, provided the required punch from close range.

France went to their bench, a shift change for the brute squad as four new tight-five goliaths arrived. If Wales were relieved to see the combined 195kg of Atonio and Meafou giving way, the arrival of the similarly super-sized Colombe and Taofifenua was the stuff of nightmares – the pair soon combined to detonate the Welsh scrum. Thibaud Flament thought he had scored from the penalty advantage but was shown to have lost control over the line. The visitors packed down again but were over-eager to deal more damage – free kick, Welsh ball, a chance to clear their lines.

Georges-Henri Colombe impressed off the bench on debut for France (David Davies/PA Wire)

The defensive stand brought a shift in strategy and renewed focus from France, Ramos slotting the next kickable penalty to bring his side back to within a point. When they next returned to the Welsh 22, there was no penalty required, the colossal Colombe shifting tectonic plates and two defenders out of his way to crash over the line. Soon after, Gareth Davies hurried hurl of a box kick failed to clear the skyscraper Taofifenua, an immeuble soon on the move and collecting his charge-down to score.

A Ramos penalty six minutes from time widened the margin beyond two scores, and it felt like Wales had fired the last stone in their slingshot, the last word delivered in French twang as Maxime Lucu squeezed over in the corner.

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