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By Charles Richardson at Stade de France
Dublin once again proved to be the thorn in France’s championship hopes. After falling short in the Irish capital in the second round, Les Bleus required an English victory over Grand Slam-chasing Ireland at the Aviva Stadium to have any chance of clinching a second consecutive Six Nations title. Alas, with Ireland’s victory over England, France’s bonus-point conquering of Wales earlier was not enough for back-to-back French glory.
Fabien Galthie’s side were not quite at their ravishing Twickenham best against Wales, but the World Cup favourites – with home advantage – remain just that, in spite of Ireland’s impressive Grand Slam. Given their unbeaten 2022, it seems almost churlish to point out that France came into this campaign with a point to prove.
The round-one victory in Rome did little to answer France’s critics and, in many ways, the failure to hit the ground running cost Galthie’s side. While the visitors played their part in a Six Nations classic in Dublin in round two, France were comfortably defeated by an Irish side sniffing a Grand Slam.
After a win against Scotland, however, France came back to the party, with one of the most astounding performances that Twickenham had ever seen. From that moment on, it became evident that France had been simmering, but that they were now on the verge of boiling point ahead of their home World Cup later in the year.
The scoreline will tell a depressing story of sorts for Wales but what the numbers do not portray is that some of their finest rugby of the championship came in this match.
On the occasion of Taulupe Faletau’s 100th cap, the intent from the visitors was clear: do everything that England aimed to do last week, but could not. Every Welsh line-out in the first half was taken swiftly; the bellicose French pack were moved about; Wales played with pace in the wide channels; and France were often under pressure. The losing bonus point that Rio Dyer’s try secured in the game’s final stanza was no more than the visitors’ efforts deserved after having trailed by 34-7 just after half-time.
Wales’s desire to increase tempo at the start of the match led to their best 20-minute spell of the championship, too – and the brightest in Gatland’s latest reign. The visitors received their just deserts, when Rhys Webb’s tremendous miss-pass cut out the entire French midfield and George North raced unopposed under the sticks to open the scoring.
Speaking of tremendous mis-passes, however, no one could have quite foreseen what was to come. Romain Ntamack ghosted past Nick Tompkins, with Antoine Dupont running the most cunning of support lines, gyrating inside and out of his fly-half. Ntamack offloaded to the scrum-half, who fired as good a pass as one might ever see off his left hand – almost 40 metres to the naked eye – and put Damian Penaud in at the corner.
Thomas Ramos added two more penalties before the full-back combined beautifully with his club-and-country confreres – Dupont and Ntamack – to get France within five metres. When the ball was recycled, Ntamack found Penaud, who fired the scoring pass out to Jonathan Danty, who went over in the corner.
Ramos, growing increasingly influential from first receiver, put Uini Atonio in at the corner after an ankle-breaking Dupont sidestep, before Gael Fickou’s majesty – from the cutest Ntamack wrap-around – sealed the bonus point and a 27-point lead for France.
At that stage, a side who have endured the travails of this Wales team of late might well have buckled – but Gatland’s side, to their credit, did not.
Bradley Roberts did tremendously well to ride a Romain Taofifenua tackle and touch down before Tomos Williams squirmed over.
Penaud’s second try, from a silky outside fade from Ramos, put the nail in the Welsh coffin, however, with Dyer’s late score sealing a consolation bonus point for the Welsh.
It would take a brave man to bet against Galthie’s rebuild.
Scoring sequence: 0-5 North try, 0-7 Biggar con, 10-7 Ramos pen, 13-7 Ramos pen, 18-7 Danty try, 20-7 Ramos con, 25-7 Atonio try, 27-7 Ramos con, 32-7 Fickou try, 34-7 Ramos con, 34-12 Roberts try, 34-14 Biggar con, 34-19 T Williams try, 34-21 Biggar con, 39-21 Penaud try, 41-21 Ramos con, 41-26 Dyer try, 41-28 O Williams con.
France: T Ramos; D Penaud, G Fickou, J Danty, E Dumortier (Y Moefana 74); R Ntamack, A Dupont (capt, M Lucu 74)); C Baille (R Wardi 49), J Marchand (P Mauvaka 49), U Atonio (S Falatea 48), T Flament, R Taofifenua (B Chalureau 59), F Cros, C Ollivon (S Macalou 74), G Alldritt.
Replacements not used: M Jaminet.
Wales: L Rees-Zammit (L Halfpenny 74); J Adams, G North, N Tompkins, R Dyer; D Biggar (O Williams 74), R Webb (T Williams 54); W Jones (G Thomas 44), K Owens (capt, B Roberts 44), T Francis (D Lewis 57), A Beard, A W Jones (D Jenkins 24, A W Jones 37, D Jenkins 44), A Wainwright, J Tipuric, T Faletau (T Reffell 62).
Referee: N Berry (Australia).
We know what Shaun Edwards' defence can do and that's what they pride themselves of for us to score four tries was a huge achievement.
We are disappointed with some inaccuracies, we left a couple out there and give them opportunities which they took.
I think we are tighter as a squad with everything has gone on, you can look at it two ways as disappointment or character building.
We knew it was going to be tough with the transition, new coaches coming in, some new combinations but we have built and gotten better as the competition has gone on we have just got to keep tight keep working and look forward to our time together leading up to the World Cup.
Auteur de plusieurs interventions de grande classe, 𝗥𝗼𝗺𝗮𝗶𝗻 𝗡𝘁𝗮𝗺𝗮𝗰𝗸 est l’homme du match 🌟#SixNations | #FRAvWAL pic.twitter.com/PgFRlah283
It went under the radar given that everything that rides on this final day but Thomas Ramos scored more points in this year's Six Nations than any other Frenchman in history.
🥇 𝐑𝐄𝐂𝐎𝐑𝐃 𝐃𝐄 𝐏𝐎𝐈𝐍𝐓𝐒 𝐅𝐑𝐀𝐍𝐂̧𝐀𝐈𝐒 lors d'une édition du #SixNations #XVdeFrance #NeFaisonsXV pic.twitter.com/F8gXmY8NHF
We lost to a quality outfit today but we showed enough character to keep building for the future.
We spoke in the week about we got nothing to lose and being brave.
Everyone wrote us off especially after what they did to England last weekend but we showed a lot of character.
We celebrated Dillon Lewis getting 50 caps, Taulupe Faletau 100 caps, couple of our staff are leaving today, it was their last game so we wanted to put in a performance for them that they can be proud of on their special occasions.
As of now France have the lead of the Six Nations but a win, by any margin, for Ireland will see that famous trophy reside in Dublin.
📊 As it stands…#IREvENG | #SuperSaturday ⚡️ pic.twitter.com/I2xX4owqpU
The crowd at the Stade de France was in celebratory mood after the final whistle with all eyes now focusing on events in Dublin.
4 – Wales lost a @SixNationsRugby match after scoring four tries for the first time ever – they have now lost each of their last four final round fixtures in the Championship, as many times as in their previous 16 campaigns combined. Hoodoo. pic.twitter.com/9xMejcT7PB
A lovely little moment after the match as Taulupe Faletau gets to celebrate his 100th cap with his family.
The 100 cap man playing with his kids after the final whistle wonderful #FRAPDG #fravwal #GuinnessSixNations pic.twitter.com/J9mo03VYuV
Personally, I think our performance today has been fantastic today, especially up against a phenomenal French team👏🏉
Big well done to our boys – so proud of them – hell of a shift with brilliant tries – massive boost for us🏴❤️🏉 #FRAvWAL @WelshRugbyUnion@BBCScrumV
First three games Wales managed 3 tries. Last two games they’ve hit 8. Definitely an improvement. Defence still a leaky tap though.🤷😎#FRAvWAL
Never going to win today. However in the circumstances of the most turbulent & poor seasons, against a team who could be world champions that put some pride back in the shirt. Some world class servants bowed out heads up today. #FRAvWal
Good display by Wales against an imperious France. Beginning to think we might actually snaffle a win against Portugal in the World Cup. #FRAvWAL
Allez l'Angleterre ? 😁
A great game comes to an end. Wales showed fight but in truth it never really looked in doubt for France. Both teams leave with a bonus point and now the French have leapfrogged Ireland in the Six Nations table and will be hoping and praying that their old enemies England can do them a favour and upset Ireland in Dublin.
France will be furious to have ended the game giving up a soft try but they'll be pleased with the majority of their performance and at times they looked like the best team on the planet. For Wales there'll be relief, they didn't get blown away and indeed their were elements of promise and at times they went blow-for-blow with a truly top class French team.
What a match in Paris! 🙌#SuperSaturday⚡️ #FRAvWAL pic.twitter.com/WVnWqYRU4r
A very soft try which has left France defence coach Shaun Edwards fuming. That said it does showcase the grit and guts of this Welsh team who have kept on fighting and earned a bonus point in the process.
Tipuric managed to find Rio Dyer on the left flank, who sprints from the halfway line and scores. Leigh Halfpenny, who just came on, adds the extras.
Something to take into the World Cup prep 🏴#GuinnessSixNations | #ITVRugby pic.twitter.com/autRanyYdG
The French winger runs in for his second score of the game. It all starts on the left hand side of the field with Mauvaka's tap and run but France's big boys can't quite cross the line. The crowd is ramping up as is Damian Penaud who wants the ball played out to the right.
Penaud's wish is granted with the ball played fast to the right wing, with a two-on-one allowing Ramos to bring the defender towards him before passing wide to Penaud who jogs over the line.
Ramos continues his flawless game with another two points.
ALLEZ LES BLEU! 🇫🇷
Over to you, @IrishRugby 👀#GuinnessSixNations | #ITVRugby pic.twitter.com/x0kl7xhK4u
The Stade de France crowd are very vocal, they want more, they want France to finish off this game and their Six Nations campaign in style.
A goal-line drop out for Wales after a Ramos chip to the corner, with France looking menacing. Welsh (and Irish) fans breathe, time for the boys in red to go again.
Penaud bursts into space for France and he almost likes he's going to get away but he collides with a Welsh player seconds after releasing the ball. The Frenchman hits the deck and stays down.
Play goes on but Dumortier and Ramos can't turn it into anything. Penaud gets back to his feet eventually but he's not happy with the tackle and remonstrates but to no avail.
Well, well, well, this is getting very interesting. Wales get another and it stems from a French mistake in the scum. That gave Wales a penalty which Biggar booted to around 10 metres of the line. Wales win the lineout and Williams profits as he gets over the line.
Biggar converts but Fabien Galthié's expression is the same as he looks on, as cool as ever, from the sideline.
They've got another! 🏴
Great phase play and a great finish from Williams! 🏉#GuinnessSixNations | #ITVRugby pic.twitter.com/DE4N9086Yj
Some strong play from Wales but they just can't make any inroads near that French line before ultimately giving up the penalty and allowing France to release the pressure. They do look reinvigorated though, which will be music to Irish ears.
Are you watching Ireland? Dumortier coughs up the ball near the French line after some excellent pressure was applied by Rees-Zammit but he manages to regain possession before Adam knocks him back over the line. Wales get the scrum within punching distance. They couldn't, could they?
France's confidence haunts them then as Wales turnover the ball in the France 22 after Ramos decides to run the ball out from the back. Wales move forward before the ball is released to Roberts to gets over the line before Biggar adds another two with his boot.
@WelshRugbyUnion get one back…
Roberts with a tidy finish! 🏴#GuinnessSixNations | #ITVRugby pic.twitter.com/TA3z6W7Ale
We've had some changes over the last few minutes, so let's catch up with them.
For Wales we saw Bradley Roberts, Gareth Thomas and Dafydd Jenkins come on, replacing Wyn Jones, Ken Owens and Alun Wyn Jones. Minutes later we saw Tomos Wiliamsreplacing Rhys Webb.
Uini Atonio came off too, a good day for him picking up that 50th cap and scoring his first international try. In addition to Atonio we also saw Cyril Baille and Julien Marchand off, with Reda Wardi and Peato Mauvaka on. Got that? Lovely.
Wales spent a few minutes looking shellshocked but almost managed to break free. Tomkins kicks a grubber from the Welsh 22, which pops up nicely allowing North to grab it and he almost managed to offload to Rees-Zammit as he's tackled. The Welsh fullback had acres of space and almost certainly would have scored if he'd have caught it.
Fickou with an absolutely obscene try that really should only be shown after the watershed. Fickou gets over the line, managing to roll forward after being tackled by North but it was all about Dupont and Ntamack. Dupont just magnificent spatial awareness after the scrum, with Ntamack playing the pass at the perfect moment.
Ramos converts to add another two and the bonus point is locked in with the game effectively done at this point.
"Just look at that!"
Bonus point secured and BOY OH BOY is this French side good! 😍#GuinnessSixNations | #ITVRugby pic.twitter.com/qKEdkFBzAr
France have started this second half as they ended the first and in truth it's frightening. France win another penalty after Ramos is taken down. It's deep in France's own half and in truth, probably a good penalty to give away with Ramos looking like he was about to get clear and be able to run the length of the field, with more players in blue outside of him.
With France now just one score away from that bonus point the big question is, how are you feeling Ireland?
The big man drives his legs and gets over the line and it all came from that scrum. Dupont tripped over his own feet as he got the ball from the back of the scrum but still had time to get up and get within a couple of yards of the posts before any Welsh players switched on and tackled him. The ball then gets played out left before Atonio managed to score his first try for France in his 50th appearance.
Ramos adds the extras.
𝟓𝟎 up and a try for ANTONIOOOO!
Is there any way back for @WelshRugbyUnion ？#GuinnessSixNations | #ITVRugby pic.twitter.com/F9f7QNE3pC
France are deep in Welsh territory and knowing they have the penalty advantage they try some very eye-catching passing. It doesn't amount to anything but we have a France scrum around 10 metres out.
Ntamack gets the game restarted and we have 40 more minutes for French fans to enjoy and for Ireland fans to worry about.
A beautiful Romain Ntamack offload was one of the highlights of that first half. Thankfully the France Rugby admin has turned it into a GIF for us all to enjoy.
🔥 Cette passe de @RomainNtamack #FRAPDG #XVdeFrance #NeFaisonsXV pic.twitter.com/Au929HTnmm
The Irish players might be getting a little twitchy as they look at the this scoreline. France have been superb and with the game already looking wrapped up they now have 40 minutes left to grab that bonus point and really add to the pressure on Ireland.
Wales knew they had to start fast here in Paris – and that was exactly what they did. In fact, we were treated to what was probably the best 20-minute spell that Warren Gatland's side have put together in this year's championship, underlined by an excellent try from George North.
After the early wake-up call, however, France rallied and established a handsome cushion, scoring two of their desired four tries. Both Damian Penaud – off a majestic Antoine Dupont pass – and Jonathan Danty crossed for the hosts, with Ramos adding two penalties as Les Bleus put the squeeze on in the tight. The Wales scrum, certainly, looks a concern.
And, incidentally, Ramos already has 10 points to his name; 11 more in the second half and he will break Jonny Wilkinson's record of the most points scored in a single Six Nations championship.
As fascinating half of rugby and one which really shows the gulf in class between a decent test team and a truly magnificent one. Wales had a lot of ball early in the half and looked dangerous but the French defence held firm for the most part. Then France switched gears, got the ball into the hands of their playmakers played some real champagne rugby as they accelerated away from Wales.
Wales win the ball back and valiantly decide to go on the attack but eventually see Adams get tackled out of play on the right flank which brings an end to an interesting half.
A Welsh knock-on gives France a scrum inside the visitors half with just enough time to try and rack up another score and get closer to that bonus point.
Good news for Wales as Alun Wyn Jones is back on the field.
Nobody is stopping Danty from five yards out, a juggernaut as he powered to the line.
That was a real peach of a try, with all of France's big names involved. A delightful offloads to Dupont allows the scrum-half to find space as France drive closer. The ball then gets switched to the right, eventually feeding Danty, who is closed down by Welsh players but nobody is stopping a man who is built like a milk float.
It almost goes without saying at this point but Ramos adds the two and France extend their lead.
😤 "Who can stop this man? Nobody!"
🇫🇷 They're at it again#ITVRugby | #GuinnessSixNations | @DantyJonathan pic.twitter.com/Gh0OI88L75
Ramos is as cool as a cucumber as he slots home another kick following the penalty. The penalty was given for Wales bringing down scrum near their own 22.
Ramos continues to showcase the brilliant kicking he's displayed in this Six Nations as he adds another three points for France after Faletau gave away the penalty.
Alun Wyn Jones is called off for an HIA and he's replaced by Dafydd Jenkins.
France play the ball from left to right but poor handling means the ball slips free and George North absolutely leathers the ball down field. The chase is on and an awkward bounce puts pressure on the French but they just about manage to get their hands on it and get back in position to play it outwards.
France clear the ball deep after a scrum into their 22. It's collected by Rees-Zammit who runs it back but Wales give up a penalty, which is booted out for a lineout just into Wales' half.
Penalty for Wales and France could be a bit lucky there. Fickou's tackle looks a bit dangerous but despite lifting him it's decided that he grounded him without driving him into the turf, so no card. Biggar boots it deep into French territory once again.
Wales collapse a maul in dangerous territory and hand the ball right back to France, who had their backs against the wall again for a minute.
Wales with 74% possession so far, which really highlights how well they've played.
Antonio knocks the ball on as he tries to intercept a Welsh pass. The TMO takes a look at it and decides it wasn't deliberate, which is the right call. Scrum for Wales.
Wales are back in the French 22 with Rees-Zammit and Adams producing some magic as they keep the ball in play. Where have this Wales been hiding all Six Nations?
Some start this. Real end to end stuff with both sides showcasing some great rugby.
WHAT A TRY! That's how you respond. Ntamack breaks the Welsh line, sprinting deep into the Welsh half before finding Dupont, who does what he does best and releasing Penaud with a simply fantastic pass. Penaud then accelerates over the line before Ramos converts a difficult one. Game on!
🇫🇷 C'est Magnifique!
👀 What a response from France!#ITVRugby | #GuinnessSixNations | @PenaudD pic.twitter.com/Va2uaYKLBV
This will put the cat amongst the pigeons. An early Welsh try as George North gets over the line.
It all comes from the maul following the lineout which powers to the French line before the ball is released and ends up with North easily running in under the posts.
Biggar adds the extras with a fairly simple conversion.
👊 George North loves a try vs France!#WelshRugby | #GuinnessSixNations pic.twitter.com/CEsg7shnhl
Another Welsh attack sees them within touching distance and Wales play on knowing there's an advantage. We eventually go back and Wales kick it out for a lineout. Can they make something of their early pressure?
France clear the ball and it's straight back with Wales, who again work it towards the French line, before playing the ball across the field from right to left with Rees-Zammit who offloads it forward as he's tackled. What a start from Wales.
An early French penalty against Alldritt gives Wales a great opportunity to pounce. Biggar kicks the ball into touch around the French five metre line for the lineout. The visitors haul it in but as they drive to the French line there's a knock-on from Ken Owens and France have got away with it.
A big Dan Biggar boot gets us underway and the ball is in French hands.
We're treated to two of the best anthems in the Six Nations. First up, Wales and Land of My Fathers before a very loud rendition of La Marseillaise that rings around the Stade de France.
The players are out and before the anthems we we have a minute of applause for former Argentina international Federico Martin Aramburu, who was killed a year ago today.
Every single game between Wales and France over the last eight years has been a one-score game so we know how tough it will be.
Their back three has some real speed, there's plenty of size in the centres with George [North] coming back in and any side with Dan Biggar will have plenty of fight.
To be in a position to win the Six Nations we have to go up against Wales, we can't make a mistake in who our opponents are: they are Wales and this match.
We prefer to focus on our match, then we have control on our destiny. Afterwards it's not down to us.
🗞️ La une du journal L'Équipe du samedi 18 mars 2023. pic.twitter.com/jIViUqXO2Y
France have won 28 of their 35 games under Fabien Galthié and worryingly for Wales there is nobody in the Six Nations, Italy apart, that he has a better record against, winning all four of their meetings so far.
⏳⏳⏳ 𝙱𝚒𝚎𝚗 𝚜𝚎 𝚙𝚛𝚎́𝚙𝚊𝚛𝚎𝚛 pour ce dernier match du Tournoi ! @assurementrugby #XVdeFrance #NeFaisonsXV #FRAPDG pic.twitter.com/5wMMQFpEhz
Nic Berry (Australia) is the match referee. His touch judges will be Andrew Brace (Ireland) and Christophe Ridley (England) and the TMO is Joy Neville (Ireland).
Temperatures are currently at 15 degrees and should remain fairly consistent throughout the game. We are expecting clouds and some rainfall as the game progresses.
🚌 On est là
🏴 Amdani bois!#WelshRugby | #GuinnessSixNations pic.twitter.com/8jtvtbfUPk
France: 15 Ramos; 14-Penaud, 13-Fickou, 12-Danty, 11-Dumortier; 10-Ntamack, 9-Dupont (C); 8-Alldritt, 7-Ollivon, 6-Cros, 5-Taofifenua, 4-Flament, 3- Atonio, 2-Marchand, 1-Baille
Replacements: 16-Mauvaka, 17-Wardi, 18-Falatea, 19-Chalureau, 20-Macalou, 21-Lucu, 22-Moefana, 23-Jaminet
Wales: 15-Rees-Zammit; 14-Adams, 13-North, 12-Tompkins, 11-Dyer; 10-Biggar, 9-Webb; 8-Faletau, 7-Tipuric, 6-Wainwright, 5-Wyn Jones, 4-Beard, 3-Francis, 2-Owens (C), 1-Wyn Jones
Replacements: 16-Roberts, 17-Thomas, 18-Lewis, 19-Jenkins, 20-Reffell, 21-Tomos Williams, 22-Owen Williams, 23-Halfpenny
The sun is shining just north of the French capital but the drizzle is expected later. If two results go the way of the hosts today, however, the blaze will figuratively continue long into the night.
First up, at 2.45pm, France have to give Wales a hiding. Realistically, to have any chance of ending Super Saturday as Six Nations champions, Les Bleus require a bonus-point win – with a decent points difference.
Should that happen, then all French eyes would be on Dublin where, as L'Equipe's "Come on England" headline portrayed this morning, France would require an English win to clinch a second consecutive Six Nations title ahead of a home World Cup later this year.
For now, however, Fabien Galthié's side must try and replicate the form that underscored that battering of England at Twickenham last week. Should they do that, then France will have done all they can.
All the talk this Saturday is of Ireland and the potential Grand Slam, that would be only the fourth in the their history, but can France spoil the party? Given recent England performances it's probably a bridge too far for them to leave the Aviva with a win and stop Ireland scoring a bonus point, but it's possible.
A big French victory here, with the bonus point, would see them leapfrog Ireland, for 80 minutes at least and pile the pressure firmly onto Andy Farrell's team.
France, Grand Slam winners just last year, come into this game on the back of a momentous 53-10 victory over England a week ago. Their performance was the best of the Six Nations so far, a true masterclass from the opening minute until the last. That will give them huge confidence going into this game, in front of a packed Stade de France and undoubtedly put the fear into Warren Gatland's Wales team and their supporters.
The return of Gatland was welcomed earlier in the year but a change in fortunes hasn't been as quick as many, including the New Zealander, would have hoped. They came into the weekend fifth in the Six Nations, thanks to last weekend's 29-17 victory over and Italian team that gave Wales every opportunity to take the win.
Before that victory over Italy they'd scored just 27 points against Ireland, Scotland and England, so doubling that total would have been a welcome relief. They say to never go back, but although the Gatland homecoming hasn't quite been the success he'd have wanted so far, a victory on French territory, against this great side, would be a great sign-off to end the tournament and leave things on a positive note ahead of the World Cup campaign this autumn.
In many ways the pressure if off Wales, they're 20-point underdogs with the bookies and given how electric France looked last week the weight of public expectation isn't upon them. That might free them and allow them to play their best rugby against a France team who up until last weekend hadn't really hit the performance level that we'd grown accustomed to them playing at.
France squeezed past Italy in the opening weekend, got beaten fairly convincingly by Ireland the following week and then managed to take advantage of Scottish mistakes to beat Finn Russell's men in Paris. If we've learned anything about France from their Six Nations form so far it's that, while they might be the best team on the planet on their day, they are not consistently at their very best.