Wales fell to a second successive loss to end chances of back-to-back Six Nations titles as France emerged victorious from Saturday’s game at the Principality Stadium.
Looking to recover from a defeat away at Ireland in round two, Wayne Pivac had made two changes to his starting XV as Ross Moriarty and Gareth Davies came in to the side, and it seemed to be paying off as the hosts got out of the blocks the fastest as a Taulupe Faletau turnover followed by a French infringement allowed Dan Biggar to open the scoring off the tee.
Unfortunately the game can turn in a second at this level and all of a sudden the visitors bagged the first try as Leigh Halfpenny couldn’t gather a high ball in his own half with Anthony Bouthier gratefully gathering the loose possession before an easy run-in.
Things went from bad-to-worse for Wales as Romain Ntamack added a penalty to his conversion, before George North was carted from the field having been knocked unconscious in an aerial collision.
The home side did manage to cut down the lead, after a high tempo attack took us into the France 22 before they were penalised for offside, but once again Les Bleus were quick to reply.
First a try of theirs was ruled out for a forward pass, but with a penalty advantage in the back pocket they kicked to the corner and worked the lineout cleverly so that Paul Willemse circled around to the front of the set piece, broke Johnny McNicholl’s tackle and dived over.
Ntamack added the extras again but Wales’ best attacking moment of the game saw Biggar chip over the top for Nick Tompkins to run on to. He was brought down but France were offside and Biggar made the score 9-17.
Still in the game despite being two tries to nil down, the hosts had a brilliant chance to go in at half-time on a positive note when Gregory Alldritt was yellow carded for some cynical play, with Alun Wyn Jones opting to scrum rather than take the points.
Unfortunately Wales could not convert almost eight minutes of red zone pressure into points and France earned a huge psychological boost heading to the sheds having kept us out and seen the majority of the sin bin period elapsed.
The early part of the second half was a tight affair as Les Bleus returned to their full complement of players, but a moment of Nick Tompkins magic saw him create some space and kick to the corner, before an error by the away side returned possession to Wales.
Once again the red zone attack was scrappy and unorganised, but eventually Dillon Lewis laid his hands on a loose pass, whipped out the old show-and-go before diving over the try line, Dan Biggar added the extras to make it a one-point game.
With the momentum behind them Wales were looking more and more dangerous with ball-in-hand, and three minutes later a huge overlap was worked. However, as Nick Tompkins went to make the final pass with a try definitely on the cards, Romain Ntamack popped up with the perfect read and ran the ball the other way for a try of his own, converting it himself.
Ntamack added a penalty to make the score 16-27 before a moment of controversy as Wales pushed towards the France try line once again, when Paul Willemse was adjudged to have knocked on in the tackle rather than slapped down the final pass before a try. With a scrum awarded rather than a penalty try the away side were able to win a penalty and clear their lines.
There was still time for the hosts to make it a tense finish as Dan Biggar powered over and converted his own try after a flying Will Rowlands break had taken his side into the France 22, and when Mathieu Jalibert couldn’t kick a penalty that was one last chance for the men in red.
Nick Tompkins manufactured a stunning line break, carrying for 60 metres down the field, but when he was tackled Camille Chat did enough over the ball to earn the penalty for holding on and the ball was fired into the stand for a 23-27 France win.
A tough one for Wales who will feel they certainly had the opportunity to pull the win out of the bag, but some key moments of luck and refereeing decisions went against them, while an inability to consistently convert pressure into points was the real Achilles heel.
Next up is the trip to the old enemy that is England at Twickenham, with the Six Nations now over for Wales, but plenty still to play for in denying them the chance to win the title, and showing what this squad can do under Wayne Pivac and his coaching team.