France 13 Wales 20
Joe Schmidt will be scratching his head at the prospect of facing Wales who are fast becoming the ‘new France’ of the Six Nations: You just never know which side is going to turn up.
In just under two weeks, will Ireland face the Wales side they brushed aside last year with relative ease and saw England do exactly the same last month? Or will they come face to face with the side that showed the sort of grit and composure in Paris that won them two titles in the past three years? Perhaps it should be little surprise given six of the starting team are either playing in, or recently returned from, playing their club rugby in France.
Wales prevailed through fly-half Dan Biggar’s first try for his country and five Leigh Halfpenny penalties. France replied through a Brice Dulin touchdown and eight points from Camille Lopez, but Wales’ forwards who built an impressive victory platform.
Philippe Saint-Andre, the embattled France head coach, bemoaned the demands of the Top 14 on his squad during the Championship. Ironically it was those players based across the English Channel that were among Wales’ best performers at Stade de France. Gatland’s changes also worked. Recalls for hooker Scott Baldwin and second-row Luke Charteris remedied a desperately erratic lineout and the welcome return of prop Samson Lee stabilised the scrum. With that platform, Wales were finally able to unleash the likes of their British and Irish Lions midfield of Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies as well as George North. Wales failed to do that in Dublin last year.
“Ireland are very clinical. They are not playing a huge amount of rugby but have a strong driving lineout, they compete in the air and don’t make many mistakes,” said Gatland. “We have to make sure we cope with that and don’t get dragged into a similar slow game as against England. We didn’t handle that and we stopped playing rugby. But we have started to address that in recent games and managed to move the ball, even though it’s tough to break down teams early on, when everyone is fresh. So the message before facing Ireland will be to match and then beat them physically up-front and impose ourselves enough to play some rugby.”
Ireland face a team on a high, after victory in Paris saw Wales claim a fourth successive win over France for the first time in 58 years, surpassing the form of the 1970s legends such as Gerald Davies and Gareth Edwards.
Following successive wins on the road, Wales are now threatening to emulate their achievement of 2013, when they became the first team to lift the Six Nations trophy after losing their opening match, though destiny is not entirely in their own hands. “We were all bitterly disappointed with the second half performance against England but we have improved with each game since and will have to find another level against Ireland,” admitted Roberts. “Rugby is won up front and our set-piece against France was outstanding. It set us a platform.”
Wales were never behind in Paris but were not always in control and had French errors to thank as Yoann Huget’s try was ruled out for a forward pass and three penalties sailed wide.
Scorers for France: Try – B Dulin. Con – C Lopez. Pens – C Lopez (2).
Scorers for Wales: D Biggar. Pens – L Halfpenny (5)
FRANCE: B Dulin; Y Huget, R Lamerat (M Bastareaud 17), W Fofana (R Talet 67), S Guitoune; C Lopez, M Parra (S Tillous-Borde 52); E Ben Arous (V Debaty 52), G Guirado (B Kayser 52), R Slimani (U Atonio 52), R Taofifenua (J Suta 60), Y Maestri, T Dusautoir, B Le Roux, D Chouly (L Goujon 73).
WALES: L Halfpenny; G North, J Davies, J Roberts, L Williams; D Biggar (R Priestland 75), R Webb; G Jenkins (P James 70), S Baldwin (R Hibbard 68), S Lee (A Jarvis 79), L Charteris (B Davies 68), AW Jones, D Lydiate, S Warburton (capt, J Tipuric 68), T Faletau.
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa).
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