Planet Rugby

Wales keep title hopes alive

21st February 2014 21:52

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Wales v France George North

Early try: George North

Wales are still alive in the 2014 Six Nations title race thanks to a 27-6 victory over France at the Millennium Stadium on Friday.

The defending champions bounced back from a heavy defeat in Dublin with a muscular display, leading from start to finish and outscoring their visitors two tries to none.

Unlike their performance a fortnight ago, the Welsh pack came to the party, dominating the contact zones and shutting down any and all French attacks.

Wales led 20-6 at the interval thanks to an opportunistic try from George North, five penalties from Leigh Halfpenny, some interesting refereeing from Alain Rolland and a few howlers from Jean-Marc Doussain.

It was a dominant opening 40 minutes from the defending champions, who hardly allowed the French into their 22.

The second-half saw just a single score but skipper Sam Warburton's try sealed the win that reignites Wales' hopes of claiming a third consecutive title.

It took just two minutes for the first points to be scored as Halfpenny found the target from almost 50 metres following a French ruck infringement.

It didn't take much longer for Wales to score the first try either. It came from a French mistake as Doussain clattered into Brice Dulin, causing the full-back to spill the ball to which he had beaten North in a race back to his line. The ball bounced free, allowing the Welsh centre to score a soft try.

Surprisingly, Halfpenny missed the conversion but he split the uprights with another long range effort soon afterwards to give the home side an 11-0 lead inside the first ten minutes.

The French scrum would earn the visitors their first points as Doussain landed a simple penalty but referee Rolland thought a slip by Nicolas Mas was worth three points in the other direction at the next set-piece so Wales led 14-3 at the end of the first quarter.

Doussain's poor form off the kicking tee continued as he missed an absolute sitter. Jules Plisson took over the kicking duties though and slotted the next one to cut the gap at 14-6.

The pattern of a Welsh reply for every French score continued though and North earned an easy three-pointer for Halfpenny with a crash ball in front of the sticks.

The home side would finish the half on a positive note as Halfpenny added his fifth penalty thanks to the Welsh scrum winning the ball back. (Despite Doussain noting Rolland's leniency for crooked feeds, he decided to roll it under Richard Hibbard's nose).

Phillipe Saint André saw the light and changed his scrum-half at the interval but France continued to leave points by the wayside as Plisson hooked a long-range effort before an offload from Mathieu Bastareaud was greeted by a knock-on within sight of the line.

The scrum-time lottery saw opposing props Gethin Jenkins and Mas hit the jackpot and win a yellow card each but it did little to abate the flow of penalties in both directions.

The nightmare for les Bleus continued as Louis Picamoles saw yellow before Warburton stretched out an arm to score after a powerful run from Jamie Roberts.

Despite their best efforts, the disjointed French attack failed to seriously threaten the outstanding Welsh defence as the home side closed shop until the final whistle.

Man of the match: Hard to pick out a single man as the entire Welsh pack deserve a pat on the back. A mention for Jamie Roberts, who was key to getting Wales going forward, and Rhys Webb, who made a lot of good decisions. But we'll go for Sam Warbuton, not only for his try and strong performance in the tackle area, but for leading a much-improved effort from the men in red.

Moment of the match: France found themselves chasing the game almost from the first whistle. George North's try set Wales on their way, and they never looked back.

Villain of the match: No nasty stuff to report.

The scorers:

For Wales:
Tries: North, Warburton
Con: Halfpenny
Pens: Halfpenny 5
Yellow card: Jenkins

For France:
Pens: Doussain, Plisson
Yellow cards: Mas, Picamoles

Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 George North, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (capt), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Jake Ball, 4 Luke Charteris, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Paul James, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 Andrew Coombs, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Mike Phillips, 22 Dan Biggar, 23 James Hook.

France: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Yoann Huget, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Hugo Bonneval, 10 Jules Plisson, 9 Jean-Marc Doussain, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Wenceslas Lauret, 6 Yannick Nyanga, 5 Yoann Maestri 4 Pascal Papé (c), 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski, 1 Thomas Domingo.
Replacements:16 Brice Mach, 17 Yannick Forestier, 18 Vincent Debaty , 19 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 20 Damien Chouly, 21 Maxime Machenaud, 22 Rémi Talès, 23 Gael Fickou.

Venue: Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)
Assistant referees: John Lacey (Ireland), Dudley Phillips (Ireland)

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