Wales U20 suffered defeat in their second World Rugby U20 Championship pool stage game on Saturday evening as they went down to an impressive France U20 outfit.
Head coach Gareth Williams had made six changes to the team that beat Argentina in the first pool stage game, with Iestyn Rees, Dafydd Buckland and Max Llewellyn all coming into the team as injury replacements, while Ed Scragg and Tomi Lewis were preferred to Morgan Jones and Rio Dyer, respectively.
It would be one of those new faces who popped up with the first try of the game after five minutes, when Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler broke on first phase ball, possession went through the hands of Ioan Davies and Tomi Lewis was over in the corner for an early lead.
France tried to work their way back into the game, but some strong maul defence and midfield defence restricted them to just a Louis Carbonel penalty after 15 minutes.
However, mistakes from Wales saw Dewi Lake overthrow a lineout before Cai Evans kicked the ball dead when going for the corner, and eventually France’s dominating of possession paid off when hooker Rayne Barka broke clear on a stunning line and offloaded for Carbonel to score and convert.
Cai Evans knocked a penalty over quickly after that score, and despite a lengthy and dangerous French attack, which saw them an inch short of the line at one point, the score stayed 8-10 as the teams went in at the break.
Unfortunately France’s pressure didn’t let up after half-time, as they almost scored inside the first five minutes when Antoine Zeghdar’s offload sent Rayne Barker over but the pass was just forward.
That didn’t stop Les Bleus attacking though, and after Alexandre de Nardi broke through the middle before being stopped by Ryan Conbeer and Iestyn Rees, the ball was recycled for Vincent Pinto to reach over in the corner.
Carbonel missed the conversion but added three more points a few minutes later as France refused to take their foot off the pedal. At the 60 minute mark they had had 72% possession in the second half.
Eventually that pressure told and the ball was worked wide for replacement winger Matthis Lebel to go over, with Carbonel converting.
Wales, in fairness, continued to battle hard and on our first visit to the opposition 22 in the second half we pick and drove within inches of the line, earned the penalty advantage and moved the ball wide for Tomi Lewis to score his second try of the game.
However, playing into the wind and having Tuesday’s game against Argentina in the legs, as well as going up a France game that had made 12 changes to their team that beat Fiji, was telling in the end.
Les Bleus kicked to the corner with the last play of the game, and although the initial drive was stopped, Julien Delbouis came on the crash ball line and reached for the line to secure the try bonus point.
A 13-32 scoreline in the end, as France U20 showed the class that reigning champions should and that could see them moving into contention to retain that title, but Wales U20 kept battling throughout and can be proud of their efforts.
Just need to focus on cutting out the little errors and getting the lineout back on track as Gareth Williams’ men go up against Fiji U20 on Wednesday, with a win comfortably securing a spot in the 5th-8th place play-off.