Wales 14-13 France: Wales claim second place in 2018 Six Nations
Last Updated: 17/03/18 11:50pm
Wales held on to finish second in the Six Nations Championship after a 14-13 win over France at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday.
Wales led 14-10 at half-time and held on in the second half against a growing France onslaught for the win.
France opened the scoring through a Francois Trinh-Duc drop-goal, but the home side responded immediately with a Liam Williams try and two Leigh Halfpenny penalties.
Gael Fickou crossed for a great try, converted by Maxime Machenaud, to keep France in the game before Halfpenny added his third penalty.
Machenaud added another penalty in the second half and while they had their chances - including a missed penalty by Trinh-Duc with 12 minutes to go - the Wales defence stepped up to protect their one-point lead and claim second spot in the Six Nations table.
The victory also meant England finished fifth in this season's Six Nations on the back of successive defeats against Scotland, France and Ireland.
France flew out of the blocks and Trinh-Duc put them ahead through a smart drop-goal after four minutes that rewarded their promising start.
But the Toulon playmaker soon turned from hero to villain, making a complete hash of his work in defence after Wales centre Scott Williams sent through a teasing kick, with Liam Williams collecting the bounce for his team's opening try.
Halfpenny missed the conversion, yet he soon found his range by landing an angled penalty as Wales took an 8-3 lead following a lively opening that showcased adventure from both sides.
A second Halfpenny penalty extended Wales' advantage, but France hit back in scintillating style through a try that owed everything to slick handling and lung-busting support play.
Fickou began the move just inside his own half, and it was taken on at pace by hooker Adrien Pelissie and lock Paul Gabrillagues, before quickly recycled possession ended with Fickou touching down at pace, having crossed from the opposite wing.
Machenaud added the conversion, only for Halfpenny to complete his penalty hat-trick 10 minutes before the break as both sides continued to probe for attacking space during an entertaining contest.
The French scrum-half, though, missed a penalty on the stroke of half-time, and Wales held a four-point advantage at the midway point in the battle for second place.
France dominated the early second-half exchanges, and a Machenaud penalty made it a one-point game as Les Bleus' impressive close-quarter handling game began making in-roads, giving Wales plenty of food for thought.
Wales, despite the odd charge from outstanding No 8 Taulupe Faletau, could not establish any kind of territorial foothold in the French half, and even with 20 minutes to go, it looked as though they were hanging on.
France continued to monopolise possession, denying Wales front-foot ball, yet their own attacking limitations were also exposed as the ball too often failed to find Fickou or his fellow wing Remy Grosso.
Trinh-Duc then missed a straightforward penalty that would have nudged France ahead - Machenaud had been replaced five minutes earlier - and Wales survived as a dreary, error-strewn encounter lurched towards its conclusion.
Man of the match
Not the best game but Wales will be happy with their defence in the second half. By finishing runners-up, Wales will also add £3.3m to the WRU coffers - not a bad pay day! For France, they dominated possession in the second half and there will be questions as to why they could not make that count. Gael Fickou's try was definitely a plus for Les Bleus.
As mentioned above how did France not make the most of all that possession? There were also far too many unforced errors from both sides as well as a serious amount of penalties given away. A concern for Wales will be that they failed to score a point after the 30th minute, leaving head coach Warren Gatland with plenty to contemplate ahead of summer appointments with South Africa and Argentina.
Tweet of the game
🗣Man of the match and captain Alun Wyn Jones: “We had a big message that we wanted to finish this campaign as we started, with a win, and we got that. This last game we've shown a bit of character we can use going forward."— NatWest 6 Nations (@SixNationsRugby) March 17, 2018