France 19-24 Wales

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Wales got the 2019 Guinness Six Nations underway in scrappy fashion but with an all-important win as we recorded the biggest comeback in competition history.

Going into the game Warren Gatland’s men were unbeaten in nine games and had a settled team with only three changes from the side that beat South Africa in the last Autumn International, as Rob Evans and Josh Navidi came in for the injured Nicky Smith and Ellis Jenkins, while Tomos Williams was preferred to Gareth Davies.

On the other side, France were on a run of just one win in seven games and coming off a defeat at home to Fiji, with head coach Jacques Brunel making a number of changes to his team yet again, but it was the hosts who undoubtedly had the upper hand early on.

Josh Navidi France
Josh Navidi’s last international outing was against France last year

A Hadleigh Parkes knock-on in midfield was pounced on by France as Yoann Huget down the left and Romain Ntamack on the right made ground. Wales tried to regroup but eventually Louis Picamoles got a yard of space and stepped inside Gareth Anscombe to crash over for the opening try after six minutes.

On a wet night in Paris the home side were winning the aerial battle, while Wales were making mistakes at the attacking breakdown and conceding too many penalties in defence, giving Les Bleus field position for free.

Morgan Parra, playing his first Six Nations game for four years, missed both the conversion and a penalty a few minutes later, and almost found those mistakes punished but Anscombe missed a penalty of his own.

Wales then had a second chance to get on the scoreboard after Josh Navidi managed to rip possession from Louis Picamoles. A well worked attack saw Liam Williams hit the line from full-back and opt to ignore Jon Davies outside him, cutting back inside to battle over the line. Unfortunately there was a slight knock-on in the process of scoring.

Liam Williams France
Liam Williams looks to the referee after crossing in the first half

From there the visitors conceded two soft penalties to allow France to make progress up the field, and although the first attack was halted by a superb Liam Williams high ball take, the hosts came back quickly with Arthur Iturria producing a brilliant offload to release Huget on the left wing for his eighth international try.

Parra missed the conversion again, before Anscombe missed another penalty with the kickers 0 from 5 in tough conditions off the tee, and Welsh players struggling with the slippery ball in midfield.

France continued to build pressure as a Maxime Medard chip kick saw Tomos Williams dragged over his own try line, and from the follow-up attack the visitors infringed with Camille Lopez taking over the kicking duties to secure three points.

As the first half ticked towards a close Huget again was a pain, busting through the middle of the Wales defence, and when we infringed again the hosts went straight to the corner.

Some excellent maul defence from Adam Beard and a scrum free-kick ended the initial danger, but the Welsh tactic to keep the ball in play from the resulting kick was a poor one with half-time approaching and Camille Lopez was in range for a drop goal to make the score 16-0 at the break.

Louis Picamoles France
Louis Picamoles crashes over for the opening try of the game

The early part of the second half followed the trend of the first in terms of handling errors for both teams, however it only takes one moment of brilliance to spark the game into life and it was Wales who provided it.

Josh Adams tracking across from his left wing took the ball at first receiver on the right hand side, cutting back and finding a gap where the breakdown was before drawing the last man and putting Tomos Williams over for his third try in a red jersey. Gareth Anscombe kicked the conversion and a lifeline was on offer.

Then, a few minutes later, it was well and truly game on as Hadleigh Parkes stabbed a highly speculative kick through with a penalty advantage in the back pocket that Yoann Huget should have fielded with ease, but he inexplicably spilled the ball and George North was on hand to pounce, Anscombe adding the extras again.

Shortly after it seemed like it was going to be a complete turnaround in just 10 minutes as Ross Moriarty crossed the line after a Jon Davies break, but referee Wayne Barnes called it back as Alun Wyn Jones was adjudged to have put a block in.

Tomos Williams France
Tomos Williams slides over for his first Six Nations try

In the end Wales had to wait until the 62nd minute to take the lead when Dan Biggar nudged us ahead with a well taken penalty, but the game was far from over as France attempted to wrestle themselves back into contention.

The hosts camped in the opposition 22 and almost broke towards the try line through Felix Lambey after a half charged down drop goal attempt, but in the end Les Bleus only had a Camille Lopez penalty to show for their efforts.

They returned on the attack quickly and fashioned another opportunity out wide, but a huge moment in the game saw Sebastien Vahaamahina throw an inexplicable miss-pass which was picked off by George North, the winger sprinting 70 metres for a second try of the game, converted by Biggar.

George North France 2
George North celebrates next to a despondent Yoann Huget

A five-point advantage to take into the final five minutes for Wales as the French prepared to throw the kitchen sink at the red wall, but huge defensive sets of 22 and 13 phases were executed superbly and Warren Gatland’s men clung on for the win.

Nothing pretty about the win at all, with handling errors and ill discipline causing the team problems throughout, however the ability to grind out wins is an important one and developing a winning culture is something that hasn’t always come naturally to Welsh teams.

Cast your minds back 12 months to Ireland travelling to the Stade de France on the opening weekend of last season’s Six Nations, as a late, late drop goal secured a 13-15 win and they went on to win the tournament.

France will definitely be disappointed by how they went away from everything that worked well for them in the first half and threw the game away in the second half, but Wales have to be pleased with any win in Paris.

They now head for a training week in Nice ahead of next week’s game away at Italy, with raising performance levels the key to win comfortably and set up the rest of the tournament.

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