Wales 22 France 29
France stormed to the top of the RBS 6 Nations standings as Jean-Baptiste Elissalde inspired them to victory over Wales at the Millennium Stadium.
The scrum-half scored 24 points for Les Bleus, with flanker Imanol Harinordoquy also weighing in with a try as the Welsh failed to get going in the second half until it was too late.
Wales suffered a major blow when their experienced hooker Robin McBryde withdrew from the starting line-up. Mefin Davies came in to replace him.
Steve Hansen’s side found themselves trailing early on after failing to clear their lines straight from the kick-off, just as they had against Ireland last time out.
This time they were fortunate it was only a penalty after France missed the chance of a fourth-minute try. Full-back Nicolas Brusque breached the Welsh defence and found right wing Vincent Clerc who had popped up on the left but with the try line begging full-back Gareth Thomas managed to bundle him into touch.
The visitors though were rewarded for their early pressure when Elissalde landed a penalty after Wales were caught offside.
Centre Damien Traille attempted to double the advantage minutes later with a penalty five metres inside his own half but his kick went well wide of the posts.
France then thought they were on for a breakaway try when Stephen Jones saw his long pass intercepted but referee Stuart Dickinson called play back for a penalty which Jones successfully converted right on the halfway line.
However Wales were committing far too many errors and after temporarily losing skipper Colin Charvis it was no surprise when Elissalde kicked his second penalty after 15 minutes.
But Wales again quickly levelled through the boot of Jones. The outside half then gave his side the lead with another penalty following their most sustained period of pressure in the match.
It was the French, who knew victory would give them the outright lead in the championship, who were now committing the errors and Jones punished them with his fourth successful kick.
The Llanelli man’s penalty took him to second in the all-time Welsh points list with 305 points – one ahead of Paul Thorburn.
On the stroke of half-time the Welsh defence was finally pierced. Outside half Frederic Michalak made the initial break before finding Clerc who sent flanker Harinordoquy over in the corner.
Elissalde converted to give France a narrow one-point advantage at the break.
France almost started the second half where they left off at the end of the first with left wing Christophe Dominici hauled down a couple of metres short of the Welsh line.
But Elissalde extended the lead with a penalty as Charvis – who had twice gone off for treatment in the first half – received touchline repairs to a facial injury.
Elissalde hit a fourth penalty soon after as half back partner Michalak began to cause havoc in the Welsh defence with his mazy running.
Wales desperately needed to score but Jones missed a relatively simple chance to reduce the deficit before converting from in front of the posts on 55 minutes to bring Wales within four points.
But Welsh hopes suffered a huge blow on the hour mark when French flanker Serge Betsen made ground before finding a superb pass when being tackled for Elissalde who streaked away from 40 metres out to grab a crucial try.
The scrum-half added a conversion to take his haul for the afternoon to 21 points to equal the record for a Frenchman against Wales set by Christophe Lamaison four years ago.
He broke that landmark as he added yet another penalty with 11 minutes to go.
The hosts’ hopes of snatching a draw were briefly lifted when Ceri Sweeney’s pass sent Martyn Williams over but the equalising try eluded them.