France keep Grand Slam dream alive

Anthony Jelonch of France
Anthony Jelonch scores the night’s only try in Cardiff
wales (9) 9
I thought: Bigger 3
French (10) 13
Tries: Jelonch Cons: jaminet I thought: jaminet 2

France kept alive their dreams of a first Grand Slam and Six Nations title since 2010 with a tense 13-9 victory over Wales.

An Anthony Jelonch try and eight points from Melvyn Jaminet set up the victory.

Wales responded with three Dan Biggar penalties, but could not break down the French defence.

Fabien Galthie’s side will aim to complete the Grand Slam against England next Saturday in Paris, while Wales host Italy in their final game.

It was a third defeat in four matches for Wayne Pivac’s defending champions alongside a narrow victory over Scotland.

Despite second-half territory and possession dominance along with inspired performances by Biggar and Taulupe Faletau, Wales’ lackluster attack could not crack a resolute French resistance expertly organized by familiar face Shaun Edwards.

The France defense coach was part of Warren Gatland’s Wales backroom team between 2008 and 2019, a period that delivered four Six Nations titles, three Grand Slams and a World Cup semi-final appearance, before joining Fabien Galthie’s set-up.

Led by hooker and man-of-the-match Julian Marchand, France also excelled at the contact area as they took their winning sequence to seven games with their first Six Nations silverware for 12 years now beckoning.

Friday night rugby was back for the first time in the Six Nations in Cardiff since 2017 with the Principality Stadium roof open.

The game was unusually played out in front of some empty seats with 63,208 attending a stadium that holds 74,500.

Factors such as being held on Friday night and travel issues, Covid-19 concerns, Wales losing two out of their first three matches and ticket prices, some costing £100, all contributed to the 11,000 absent fans.

There had been talk of fewer French fans travelling, but that did not translate into the Principality Stadium cauldron as the thousands who had made the trip proved they were in fine voice.

Wales head coach Wayne Pivac made four changes with Cardiff duo Seb Davies, normally a lock, and Josh Navidi packing down in the back row instead of Ross Moriarty and Taine Basham.

Navidi demonstrated no rustiness despite having only played one game in five months since recovering from a shoulder injury.

Injured center Nick Tompkins was replaced by Jonathan Davies, with prop Gareth Thomas preferred to Wyn Jones.

France made one change from the side that defeated Scotland as winger Gabin Villiere came in for Damian Penaud, who had tested positive for Covid-19.

Jaminet and Biggar exchanged early penalties before France showed their class with a flowing move for the only try, finished by flanker Jelonch following a scoring pass from Jaminet who also converted.

Concussion controversy

Wales scrum-half Tomos Williams suffered a noticeable head injury in the move while attempting a tackle and tried to stumble to his feet on a couple of occasions.

He was withdrawn and replaced by Kieran Hardy. It followed on from Wales being involved in a concussion controversy when prop Tomas Francis had suffered a head injury against England 13 days previously.

Francis was passed fit for Wales against France despite warnings it would be a serious mistake if he was selected from Progressive Rugby, a lobby group concerned with safety of players.

Pivac insisted Wales had “gone the extra mile” in involving an independent concussion specialist surrounding Francis.

Wales bounced back with a second Biggar penalty set up by a brilliant Faletau tackle on Jaminet.

The hosts were struggling to cope with Dupont’s sniping with prop Thomas stopping him on one occasion with a low tackle.

That resulted in the Ospreys front row going off for a head injury assessment, which he later passed.

Biggar produced two outstanding 50:22 kicks in the first half to give Wales attacking line-out options which the home side could not completely capitalize on as France proved efficient at the breakdown.

The Wales captain slotted over a third penalty from one of those opportunities as the home side battled back to 10-9 deficit at half-time with Faletau at the heart of the effort.

France prop Mohamed Haouas replaced Uini Atonio at half-time before Jaminet extended the lead with a second penalty when Adam Beard was caught offside.

Another brilliant Biggar kick set up an attacking chance for Wales, but hooker Elias was held up over the line.

Wales, guided by Liam Williams, were gaining the upper hand in the aerial contest with both sides attempting high kicks to gain the ascendency in a cagey third quarter dominated by the whistle of referee Matthew Carley.

Another sublime Biggar chip kick fell into Faletau’s hands, but the inside pass to Jonathan Davies went astray in the visiting 22 with the French line in sight.

Wales held territory and possession dominance, but were thwarted by France’s efficiency at the contact area.

Pivac threw on wing Louis Rees-Zammit to replace Jonathan Davies with Josh Adams moving into midfield, while Gareth Anscombe replaced full-back Williams.

France took off Captain Dupont with eight minutes remaining, but Les Bleu’ breakdown dominance continued as Wales’ pedestrian attacking game was picked off.

The victory left the French fans singing into the Cardiff night as their side held on for the triumph.

wales: L. Williams; Cuthbert, Watkin, J Davies, Rees-Zammit; Biggar, T. Williams; G Thomas, Elias, Francis, Rowlands, Beard, S Davies, Navidi, Faletau.

Replacements: Lake, W Jones, Lewis, Moriarty, J Morgan, Hardy, Anscombe, Rees-Zammit.

French: jaminet; Moefana, Fickou, Danty, Villiere; Ntamack, Dupont (capt); Baille, Marchand, Atonio, Woki, Willemse, Cros, Alldritt, Jelonch.

Replacements: Mauvaka, Gros, Haouas, Flament, Cretin, Lucu, Ramos, Lebel

Referee: Matthew Carley (Eng)

Touch judges: Jaco Peyper (SA) & Andrea Piardi (Ita)

OMT: Tom Foley (Eng)

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