Down and out after losing to Ireland in Cardiff, Rob Howley’s team responded in virtuoso fashion with a gutsy, if ugly, 16-6 win against a misfiring France side in Paris.
The team that won the Grand Slam last year before embarking on an eight-match losing streak proved at the Stade de France that they are very much alive and kicking.
“Hopefully this will turn things around now and we can carry on with our mission of retaining the title,” said full-back Leigh Halfpenny, whose late penalty snuck inside the post to give the Welsh an unassailable 10-point lead.
“You just try and strike it as best you can. I was just chuffed to see it go over.”
Halfpenny, with a total of three penalties and a conversion, was perhaps the standout player in what was, hand on heart, an abysmal game of rugby.
There was little in the way of pace or vision, too much slowing down of the ball in the rucks — an area where Irish referee George Clancy let too much go — and way too many handling errors, the evening best epitomised by Freddie Michalak bouncing a pass off Yoann Huget’s forehead.
“That’s two defeats in a row for us which is unforgivable at this level,” said a distraught Michalak. “It was very bad again. We were rubbish.”
Wales, though, won’t care a jot about that. They came to Paris and won in spite of the performance and they scored the only try of the game eight minutes from time when their big 110kg winger George North collected Dan Biggar’s clever cross-kick and battered his way through Francois Trinh-Duc’s despairing tackle.
“There was a bit of vision, Dan and I both shouted at the same time and I got the luck of the bounce,” said North.
It was a bit better than that and Wales deserved their win not least for being so bloody-minded, that slow start against the Irish serving as a painful reminder that they had to play from the kick off.
“It was an angry, focused Wales today,” said North.” There was a lot of pent-up energy. We stuck together, worked hard and stayed strong.”
They will enjoy this win, their first in Paris since 2005, before regrouping for the awkward trip to Rome in round three.
As for their hosts, who left the field to a cacophony of boos and whistles from their own supporters, the head-scratching and breast-beating could hardly be more fevered.
This is a shadow of the side that destroyed Australia back in November before putting away Argentina and Samoa.
“We had our backsides kicked,” said Matthieu Bastareaud, who produced one of the better performances in a blue shirt on his return to the starting line-up for the first time in three years.
“It was hard not to hear the whistles. It is very French. It was disappointing but after a catastrophic match in Italy and then a second defeat, you can hardly expect flowers.”
The coach Philippe Saint-Andre, wary of the fact that this is the first time since 1982 that France have lost their opening two matches, knows things aren’t going to get any easier. Their next match is at Twickenham and there is still a trip to Dublin to come.
“Sadly, our ambition is no longer to win the championship but to lift our head again,” he said.
Saint-Andre will announce his 23 for the next match against England at Twickenham later today . He may well be deprived through injury of Benjamin Fall, who had to come off at half time with a thigh injury, the lock Jocelina Suta and flanker Fulgence Ouedraogo while veteran wing Vincent Clerc is due to return.
Whoever plays will be walking on hot coals.
FRANCE: Y Huget; W Fofana, M Bastareaud, M Mermoz (F Fritz 75), B Fall (F Trinh-Duc 41); F Michalak, M Machenaud (Parra 56); Y Forestier (Debaty 51), D Szarzewski (Kayser 51), N Mas (Ducalcon 56), J Suta (Taofifenua 65), Y Maestri, F Ouedraogo (D Chouly 52), T Dusautoir, L Picamoles.
WALES: L Halfpenny; A Cuthbert, J Davies, J Roberts (S Williams 79), G North; D Biggar, M Phillips (L Williams 71); G Jenkins (P James 59), R Hibbard (K Owens 56), A Jones (C Mitchell 79), A Coombs, I Evans (L Reed 79), R Jones (A Shingler 79), J Tipuric, T Faletau.
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland).