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Six Nations Championship
Byrne still eyes Triple Crown
PA Sport
February 28, 2009
Lee Byrne of Wales celebrates his try with Shane Williams, France v Wales, Six Nations Championship, Stade de France on February 27, 2009 in Paris, France
Lee Byrne still feels Wales can capture the Triple Crown © Getty Images
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Lee Byrne rallied Wales following their first RBS 6 Nations defeat in almost two years, declaring: "The championship is far from lost."

A 21-16 reversal against France in Paris dashed Welsh hopes of a record-equalling ninth successive Six Nations victory.

It also ruined any chance of first back-to-back Grand Slams since 1909 after France recovered from a 13-3 deficit to end Warren Gatland's unbeaten Six Nations run as Wales head coach.

But with two games remaining - Italy in Rome and Ireland at the Millennium Stadium - Wales could still successfully defend their Six Nations crown.

And full-back Byrne, who scored a first-half try when he collected Stephen Jones' brilliant long pass and shredded the French defence, insists the tournament remains alive for Wales.

"The championship is far from lost," he said. "We can't win a Grand Slam, but the championship is still there. It will show the character of the squad - we haven't been in this position for a while in the Six Nations - and it is about us showing that character.

"The French really muscled up, and they probably wanted it more than us at the end of the day. They were hungrier for the win. Our dressing room was a quiet one, but we will learn and move on from this."

Wales, despite a promising start, could never impose themselves on France during the Six Nations' first Friday night fixture.

Les Bleus dominated the breakdown area, with back-row stars Thierry Dusautoir and Imanol Harinordoquy making life distinctly uncomfortable for a Wales side that spent long periods stuck in their own half.

"We just couldn't get our patterns going," acknowledged Byrne. "In fairness to France, they slowed a lot of ball down. Dusautoir was outstanding, and he got his hands on everything. "There were some big hits out there - they were probably more physical than us - but we will bounce back. We need to put in a a big performance against Italy in Rome (on March 14)."

Byrne's Wales and Ospreys colleague, lock Alun-Wyn Jones, also believes the title holders remain firmly in the hunt for silverware this season. "We haven't made history, but you never know what can happen over the rest of the tournament," he said. "There are still another two games, and we are very positive about the ones coming up against Italy and Ireland."

Jones accepted Wales had "everything to play for" at half-time, despite seeing a 10-point lead wiped out courtesy of a Dusautoir try and eight points from scrum-half Morgan Parra. "It was 13-13, and we came back out after the break and weathered the storm for the first 15 minutes of the second-half," he added. "Then they got a score, and we had to start chasing the game and possibly played too much rugby in the wrong areas of the pitch.

"There was a lot more hunger in the French side and they were more streetwise than us. Their line speed was very good. They were up in our faces, carried well and were very heavy at the contact area. "That said, we would question the manipulation of the rules in the last two lineouts we had in their 22 towards the end of the game when we were trying so hard to win the match.

"It will be interesting to look at those on the video again, but that is the way it goes. But we made unforced errors, mistakes that are unfamiliar to us as a squad and individuals. We didn't nail certain moments. "We will work on that. It's back to the drawing board, put our feet back on the ground and go forward from there.

"We weren't as clinical as we have been in the past in defence. As far as the championship goes, it obviously depends on other results, but the only thing we can do is win our other two games and just look forward."

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