Six Nations: Wales 14-13 France

2018 Six Nations: Wales v France
Wales (14) 14
Tries: L Williams Pens: Halfpenny 3
France (10) 13
Tries: Fickou Cons: Machenaud Pens: Machenaud Drop-goals: Trinh-Duc

Wales secured second place in the Six Nations behind Grand Slam champions Ireland following a hard-fought one-point victory over France in Cardiff.

A Liam Williams try and three Leigh Halfpenny penalties gave Wales a 14-10 interval advantage.

Gael Fickou scored France's try and the visitors enjoyed second-half possession and territory dominance.

Wales' dogged defence held firm for victory with only three points scored in the second-half.

It was not a vintage performance from Wales in a scrappy match but the victory represented a third home win for Wales to go alongside away defeats to England and Ireland.

Wales might have not won this tournament now since 2013, with Ireland and England claiming the last five titles, but they will be buoyed by second place.

More than 30 players have been used by Warren Gatland in this tournament as Wales have developed more strength in depth ahead of the World Cup in Japan next year.

Final Six Nations table
*Ireland are awarded three bonus points for winning the Grand Slam

This led to selection dilemmas ahead of the Six Nations finale with Gatland making seven changes from the side that defeated Italy after changing 10 the week before.

The selection included the return of captain Alun Wyn Jones who had signed a new national dual contract this week to stay at the Ospreys, and the Lions lock responded with a majestic man-of-the-match performance.

Dan Biggar was recalled at outside-half, preferred to Gareth Anscombe and Rhys Patchell, while Toulon centre Mathieu Bastareaud captained France in place of the injured Guilhem Guirado.

Wales started the game aware a draw would be good enough for second place after Scotland's victory over Italy and England's defeat to Ireland.

Kick-off chaos

Liam Williams going over to score
Liam Williams started for Wales against France despite coming under fire for a poor tackle against Italy

France opened the scoring with a fourth-minute Francois Trinh-Duc drop-goal before the visitors found themselves in a monumental mess from the kick-off.

French players were complaining Dan Biggar's drop out didn't go 10 metres before the ball bounced.

While they were appealing the ball went over the 10-metre line and was gathered by captain Jones who fed Josh Navidi and Gareth Davies.

Scott Williams' chip kick was horribly misjudged by Trinh-Duc and Liam Williams was on hand to gather and score.

Halfpenny missed the conversion but made amends with two penalties.

French flair

Gael Fickou
Gael Fickou's try was his only one of this year's Six Nations

France responded with a try, started and finished by Fickou who was handed a starting spot after victory over England.

After Fickou's flick pass, flanker Navidi missed a tackle on hooker Adrien Pelisse who was only starting in Guirado's absence.

Pelisse trundled up field and Fickou stormed onto a pass after picking himself up off the ground to score, scything through the Welsh midfield defence and avoiding a despairing attempted Biggar tackle. Maxime Machenaud converted.

Centre Hadleigh Parkes was one of three Welsh players to start five Six Nations matches.

The Scarlets centre found himself on the end of two thunderous Bastareaud tackles in the build-up for the move which led to Halfpenny's third penalty to punish French first-half indiscipline.

Wales enjoyed scrum superiority in the first-half and gained an aerial battle advantage with wings Williams and George North both claiming attacking kicks.

The visitors gained joy at the breakdown when the hosts were pressing while Liam Williams was penalised for taking a man out off the ball.

Machenaud missed the kick and Wales led 14-10 at half-time.

Taulupe Faletau, who captained the side last week, provided the second-half's first telling moment with a searing break down the left-hand side.

His inside pass was spilled by Gareth Davies while Liam Williams also failed to gather a pass from namesake Scott.

Machenaud reduced the deficit to one point with his first penalty after Parkes was adjudged not to have rolled away.

Scrum superiority

Alun Wyn Jones
France beat Italy and England in the Six Nations but lost to Wales, Ireland and Scotland

France brought on front-row replacements Camille Chat and Rabah Slimani and were immediately rewarded with some scrum superiority.

Trinh-Duc inexplicably kicked the ball dead from the resulting penalty, although the French set-piece yielded another penalty as the visitors enjoyed possession and territory dominance.

Another scrum decision close to the Welsh line went in the host's favour, much to the annoyance of the vocal travelling support.

A Scott Williams tackle was deemed high on French full-back Benjamin Fall by television match official George Ayoub, a decision which irritated Wales captain Jones.

That decision increased the French momentum but Wales repelled the attacking waves as Biggar somehow heroically held up Bastareaud.

This justified Gatland calling Biggar a great defensive 10 in the build-up and explains why he was recalled at 10.

A storming break from France number eight Marco Tauleigne gave Trinh-Duc the chance to take the lead but the French fly-half missed the penalty.

The Welsh dogged defence continued with a strong Halfpenny tackle on Remy Grosso.

A rare Welsh attack was sparked by George North but repelled by Bastareaud who forced a turnover penalty.

Wales held on to win with France left to rue that Trinh-Duc missed penalty.

Man of the match: Alun Wyn Jones - It was a day for dogged defence and the Wales captain led from the front in the rearguard resistance.

Alun Wyn Jones is tackled by Wenceslas Lauret
Alun Wyn Jones this week agreed a new National Dual Contract (NDC) with the Ospreys and the Welsh Rugby Union

Following the win, Wales head coach Warren Gatland said: "It was definitely an ugly win. Sometimes you will take an ugly victory over the performance. We turned up today and it was all about winning.

"The performance was not the most important thing. We started off well but there were too many turnovers and mistakes.

"That is not a bad French team and they are going to get better. It is a tough competition to win or finish second and we are pleased with where we are at the moment.

"We have got something to build on with some of the depth we have created in the squad is pleasing."

Match stats
WalesFrance
49%Possession51%
49%Territory51%
12 (1)Scrums won (lost)4 (0)
6 (1)Line-outs won (lost)12 (1)
8Pens conceded12
76 (6)Rucks/mauls won (lost)91 (2)
25Kicks from hand26
135 (26)Tackles made (missed)110 (7)
328Metres made417
7Off-loads9
3Line breaks6

Wales: Halfpenny, North, Williams, Parkes, Williams, Biggar, Davies; R Evans, Owens, Francis, Hill, Jones (capt), Tipuric, Navidi, Faletau.

Replacements: Dee, Smith, Lee, B Davies, Shingler, A Davies, Anscombe, S Evans.

France: Fall, Fickou, Bastareaud (capt), Doumayrou, Grosso, Trinh-Duc, Machenaud; Poirot, Pelissie, Gomes Sa, Gabrillagues, Vahaamahina, Lauret, Camara, Tauleigne.

Replacements: Chat, Priso, Slimani, Le Roux, Babillot, Couilloud, Beauxis, Palis.

Referee: Ben O'Keeffe (New Zealand)

Touch judges: Wayne Barnes (England) and Luke Pearce (England)

TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)