Another Six Nations thriller! France win eases pressure on Fabien Galthie as Wales risk wooden spoon embarrassment

Planet Rugby
Gael Fickou scoring a try for France against Wales in the 2024 Six Nations.

Gael Fickou scoring a try for France against Wales in the 2024 Six Nations.

France responded to their recent criticism with a fine 45-24 victory over Wales at the Principality Stadium in another excellent Six Nations encounter.

Head coach Fabien Galthie has been under pressure following a disappointing tournament so far, but this was a much-improved display.

The teams were closely matched going into the interval, with Les Bleus edging 20-17 ahead through Gael Fickou and Nolann Le Garrec tries, while Thomas Ramos added 10 points off the tee.

However, they were behind in the early stages of the second period when Joe Roberts touched down, adding to earlier efforts from Rio Dyer and Tomos Williams.

That could have been a hammer blow for the French, who have been heavily criticised during the 2024 Six Nations, but they simply upped the intensity.

The replacements made a huge impact and three of those – Georges-Henri Colombe, Romain Taofifenua and Maxime Lucu – crossed the whitewash to seal a priceless win.

It condemned Wales to a fourth defeat in a row in this year’s competition, with Warren Gatland’s men hoping to avoid the wooden spoon against Italy next weekend.

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Wales led by a point inside the closing quarter, but they have now lost 13 of their last 15 Six Nations games, and it is 21 years since Gatland’s fellow New Zealander Steve Hansen oversaw a campaign when they failed to win a match.

But that scenario could now unfold, with Italy appearing in stronger shape than Wales after beating Scotland and drawing with France, who finish their Six Nations season against England in Lyon next weekend.

Wales were dealt a late injury blow when hooker Ryan Elias withdrew due to hamstring tightness, so Elliot Dee won his 50th cap in the starting line-up and Test rookie Evan Lloyd featured among the replacements.

Sam Costelow kicked Wales into a third-minute lead, and although that was immediately cancelled out by a Ramos penalty, France’s defence was quickly cut open.

Wales attacked impressively, with Dee and lock Will Rowlands prominent, but no-one tracked Dyer and he sprinted 35 metres unopposed to touch down, before Costelow’s conversion opened up a 10-3 lead.

There was am immediate concern for Wales, though, when the game’s first scrum saw the Welsh front-row mangled into a horrible shape and Ramos kicked an easy penalty.

It gave France momentum, and they stung Wales midway through the opening half after consistent phase-play afforded Fickou a chance, and he brushed off Costelow’s weak challenge to cross wide out, with Ramos converting.

But any chance of France consolidating their advantage was quickly undone when centre Owen Watkin’s half-break exposed Ramos in defence and Williams claimed another opportunist score, again converted by Costelow.

The rollercoaster contest had no obvious pattern, and Fickou set up a second French try 10 minutes before half-time when his strong carrying was rewarded by Le Garrec’s finish. Ramos’ conversion meant that France led 20-17.

Wales counter-attacked as the half drew to a close, but they could only reflect on what might have been after number Aaron Wainwright dropped Williams’ pass when the French defence was again stretched.

The try spree continued shortly after half-time, with Wales moving back in front following strong approach work by Costelow and Williams that created an opening for Roberts to score. Costelow’s touchline conversion left France four points behind.

The visitors looked to have gone back in front following a sustained spell of pressure, but lock Thibaud Flament was adjudged to have dropped the ball as he tried to touch down and Wales escaped after referee Luke Pearce had originally awarded the score.

A Ramos penalty made it a one-point game entering the final quarter and Wales found themselves under prolonged pressure before cracking 15 minutes from time as Colombe crashed over and Ramos converted.

It got worse for Wales as Taofifenua charged down Gareth Davies’ attempted clearance to secure a bonus-point triumph and there was no way back for the home side as Lucu’s late score compounded their misery.

The teams

Wales: 15 Cameron Winnett, 14 Josh Adams, 13 Joe Roberts, 12 Owen Watkin, 11 Rio Dyer, 10 Sam Costelow, 9 Tomos Williams, 8 Aaron Wainwright, 7 Tommy Reffell, 6 Dafydd Jenkins (c), 5 Adam Beard, 4 Will Rowlands, 3 Keiron Assiratti, 2 Elliot Dee, 1 Gareth Thomas
Replacements: 16 Evan Lloyd, 17 Corey Domachowski, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Alex Mann, 20 Mackenzie Martin, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Ioan Lloyd, 23 Mason Grady

France: 15 Leo Barre, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Gaël Fickou, 12 Nicolas Depoortere, 11 Louis Bielle-Biarrey, 10 Thomas Ramos, 9 Nolann Le Garrec, 8 Gregory Alldritt (c), 7 Charles Ollivon, 6 François Cros, 5 Emmanuel Meafou, 4 Thibaud Flament, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Julien Marchand, 1 Cyril Baille
Replacements: 16 Peato Mauvaka, 17 Sebastien Taofifenua, 18 Georges-Henri Colombe, 19 Romain Taofifenua, 20 Alexandre Roumat, 21 Paul Boudehent, 22 Maxime Lucu, 23 Yoram Moefana

Referee: Luke Pearce (England)
Assistant Referees: Andrew Brace (Ireland), Damian Schneider (Argentina)
TMO: Ian Tempest (England)

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