Wales overcome France 19-10 in Cardiff to keep their title chances alive
The hosts took a narrow 6-3 lead into half-time thanks to two Dan Biggar penalties
George North’s try combined with eight points from Biggar after the restart completed the win
France captain Guilhem Guirado touched down a late consolation try for Les Bleus
Unbeaten Wales recorded their fifth consecutive win over France to set-up a potential Six Nations title showdown with England at Twickenham on 12 March.
The first half at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff was overall was a very scrappy affair, with neither side able to get into their stride in front of a bumper crowd.
Wales, who were the better of the pair, were unable to convert their dominance in possession and territory into points during the opening 40 as they took only a slender 6-3 lead into the break thanks to two penalties from fly-half Dan Biggar while Jules Plisson had the visitors on the board.
Biggar then nudged the hosts further ahead with a penalty soon after the restart before converting George North’s crucial score soon after to give Wales a 13-point lead. France enjoyed long periods of pressure, but by the time Guilhem Guirado drove over it was too late to matter, 19-10.
The win will give Gatland’s men a much-needed boost in confidence heading into their potential title decider against England at Twickenham in a fortnight’s time. Meanwhile, France’s title ambitions are not over either with Guy Noves men having to regroup for a difficult trip to Murrayfield to face Scotland in round four.
Wales, who dominated territory and possession in the opening exchanges, had the first opportunity to open the scoring after 10 minutes but the usually reliable boot of Biggar was off target with the fly-half dragging his attempt inches wide of the uprights.
Following a missed attempt from Les Bleus Plisson just short of half way, Bigger did eventually open the scoring after 12 minutes as he slotted his kick between the posts from just to the right of the posts.
The Wales number 10 then doubled the hosts advantage on the half hour with another successful kick but three minutes later following France’s first threatening break, Plisson got the visitors on the scoreboard from in front of the posts, 6-3.
Wales dominated the first half everywhere but the scoreboard and started the second the same way with Biggar extending the hosts lead to six points just three minutes after the restart, 9-3.
Wales then opened the try-scoring soon four minutes later through North. The winger went haring after a Jonathan Davies kick and actually overran it, but Plisson – probably because he thought North would grubber it ahead – got tangled up with the ball at his feet, accidentally knocking it into the speedsters path, who claimed it before diving over. Biggar then confidently added the extras to give the hosts a 13-point lead.
France then upped their tempo and power output as they spent what seemed like an eternity camped in the hosts 22 but the robust Wales defence was able to hold firm with big hit after big hit halting the visitors attack.
France’s siege of the Welsh line saw captain Guirado spurn five chances to kick at goal in favour of lineouts and scrums, but Wales held firm and finally broke free after being pinned in their own 22.
Biggar rewarded the effort with his 65th-minute penalty to kill the game as a contest, but France had the final say when Guirado touched down and substitute Francois Trinh-duc converted.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Wales: George North
Wales: 15 Liam Williams, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 George North, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton, 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Rob Evans
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Gethin Jenkins, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Jake Ball, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Lloyd Williams, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Gareth Anscombe
France: 15 Maxime Médard, 14 Virimi Vakatawa, 13 Maxime Mermoz, 12 Jonathan Danty, 11 Djibril Camara, 10 Jules Plisson, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Damien Chouly, 7 Antoine Burban, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Alexandre Flanquart, 4 Paul Jedrasiak, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado (c), 1 Jefferson Poirot
Replacements: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Vincent Pelo, 18 Uini Atonio, 19 Yoann Maestri, 20 Loann Goujon, 21 Sébastien Bézy, 22 François Trinh-Duc, 23 Gaël Fickou
Date: Friday, February 26
Venue: Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
Kick-off: 20:05 GMT
Referee: Wayne Barnes (RFU)
Assistant Referees: JP Doyle (RFU), Luke Pearce (RFU)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (SARU)