France scupper Wales's grand slam dream
Graham Jenkins at the Stade de France
February 27, 2009
France extinguished Wales' Grand Slam dreams with an impressive 21-16 victory in a pulsating clash at the Stade de France in Paris.
Tries from flanker Thierry Dusautoir and winger Cedric Heymans and 11-points from the boot of scrum-half Morgan Parra was enough to end Wales's eight-game Championship winning streak and revitalise France's own title hopes.
A first-half try from fullback Lee Byrne looked to have put Wales on course for victory but they were unable to to overhaul their hosts leaving their hopes of back-to-back clean sweeps in tatters.
This was always looking like a key match in this year's Championship and it certainly lived up to its billing with a capacity crowd packed into the Stade de France for the first ever Six Nations match staged on a Friday night.
France coach Marc Lievremont had gambled in his selection for the game with centre Benoit Baby at fly-half where he partnered the inexperienced Parra while Wales coach Warren Gatland was able to welcome back the prolific winger Shane Williams to his line-up.
Both sides began brightly but it was Wales who opened the scoring when fly-half Stephen Jones slotted an early penalty after France's eagerness had carried them offside. But France soon struck back through Parra when flanker Martyn Williams was guilty of going off his feet at the breakdown.
The tit-for-tat exchange continued with Jones edging his side ahead once more when Sebastien Chabal was penalised for kicking the ball out of the ruck. Again the hosts responded and were rewarded in terms of territory but found Wales up to the task in defence.
France debutant Matthieu Bastareaud was making a big impression to the delight of the home crowd while Wales's Tom Shanklin was lucky to escape a yellow card when he took the Imanol Harinordoquy out in the air.
Bastareaud and Ouedraogo both went close for France but they were penalised for their attempts to keep the ball alive as Wales once again fought successfully at the breakdown while No.8 Imanol Harinordoquy looked to have grounded the ball over the line only for the video referee to rule he had grounded the ball whilst bound to a ruck and had therefore infringed.
On a night for firsts, scrum-half Mike Phillips hit the overhead camera with a clearance kick soon after but it would take more than the latest technology to stop Wales in full stride. Pace was the key again as a great defence-splitting pass from fly-half Jones fed Byrne who was able to race in unopposed for the first try of the game. Jones converted to take Wales out to a ten-point lead.
France continued to show endeavour and a break from Medard had the crowd on their feet again but Wales defence kept them at bay once again although they took some reward with another penalty from Parra. An injury to Baby saw Trinh-Duc enter the fray towards the end of the half and to their credit France did not break stride. A great burst from industrious Harinorddoquy caught Wales napping and Dusautoir eventually forced his way over for the try.
Parra levelled things up with the conversion to bring the opening period to a close.
Wales looked to re-establish their grip on the game after the break but this time it was they who were thwarted by some resilient defence. Instead it was France who had the opportunity to take the lead but Parra was off-target with a straight forward penalty.
Growing in confidence, France continued to press and were rewarded with a try from Heymans. Bastareaud forced an opening and the ball was worked wide where the move looked to have ended after a loose pass but Heymans conjured the score although he had to wait for confirmation from the Television Match Official.
Parra's conversion hit the post as Wales opted for fresh legs in the form of centre Gavin Henson, scrum-half Dwayne Peel and hooker Huw Bennett but they failed to provide the magic spark with uncharacteristic errors, thanks largely to French pressure, littering their game.
Wales continued to offer France chances to cement their lead, with Leigh Halfpenny penalised for holding on, but Parra was again unable to take full advantage. An incisive break from Yannick Jauzion looked to have carved Wales open just past the hour mark but they could not find the final pass and Trinh-Duc's drop goal attempt was poor.
Another Wales infringement followed, this time for obstruction, and Parra made no mistake to edge his side closer to a famous victory. But Wales were not finished and a penalty from replacement fly-half James Hook brought them to within a try of their opponents. Cue a frantic finale with Wales throwing everything they had left at France. They closed within inches of the line but found stubborn resistance every time and a crucial turnover allowed France to close the game out.
Both sides remain in the hunt for the Championshp but Ireland now appear to be in pole position ahead of their clash with England in Dublin tomorrow.
France: Maxime Medard (Toulouse); Julien Malzieu (Clermont-Auvergne), Mathieu Bastareaud (Stade Francais), Yannick Jauzion, Cedric Heymans (both Toulouse); Benoit Baby (Clermont-Auvergne), Morgan Parra (Bourgoin); Fabien Barcella (Biarritz), Dimitri Szarzewski, Sylvain Marconnet (both Stade Francais), Lionel Nallet (Castres, capt), Sebastien Chabal (Sale), Thierry Dusautoir (Toulouse), Fulgence Ouedraogo (Montpellier), Imanol Harinordoquy (Biarritz)
Replacements: Benjamin Kayser (Leicester), Thomas Domingo (Clermont-Auvergne), Romain Millo-Chluski (Toulouse), Louis Picamoles (Montpellier), Sebastien Tillous-Borde (Castres), Francois Trinh-Duc (Montpellier), Clement Poitrenaud (Toulouse
Wales: Lee Byrne (Ospreys); Leigh Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues), Tom Shanklin (Cardiff Blues), Jamie Roberts (Cardiff Blues), Shane Williams (Ospreys); Stephen Jones (Scarlets), Mike Phillips (Ospreys); Gethin Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), Matthew Rees (Scarlets), Adam Jones (Ospreys), Ian Gough (Ospreys), Alun-Wyn Jones (Ospreys), Ryan Jones (Ospreys, capt), Martyn Williams (Cardiff Blues), Andy Powell (Cardiff Blues).
Replacements: H Bennett (Ospreys), J Yapp (Cardiff Blues), L Charteris (Newport Gwent Dragons), D Jones (Scarlets), D Peel (Sale Sharks), J Hook (Ospreys), G Henson (Ospreys).
Referee: Mark Lawrence (SA)
Assistant referees: Alain Rolland (Ire), Simon McDowell (Ire) Television Match Official: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ire)