France broke Welsh hearts at the death as a last-minute Brice Dulin try denied Wayne Pivac’s men a famous Grand Slam and sent the Six Nations into a beyond the final week decider.
Wales had largely stuck with the side that beat Italy and England over the previous two rounds, with the only change from last week being the re-introduction of Adam Beard to the second row as Cory Hill dropped to the bench, but while the attacking intent was there from the away side it was the hosts who started faster.
France, bouncing back from a defeat to England the previous week, flexed their forward muscles as after being held up over the line once they came straight back with a lineout move that saw Gregory Alldritt fly into the red zone, and Romain Taofifenua dive over from close range, with Mathieu Jalibert converting.
This started a frantic opening quarter though as Wales hit back in almost identical style, first being held up over the line as Gareth Davies couldn’t capitalise on a cutting Louis Rees-Zammit break, but then setting up in the red zone from the resulting scrum where Dan Biggar was on hand to run a crash ball line and get over for the score, converting his own try.
Back came France with a moment of magic though as Brice Dulin put in a chip kick behind the Welsh defence, Jalibert got on the end of it and Antoine Dupont was on hand in his usual supporting line to go under the posts, Jalibert adding the extras.
Then, to top off a breathless opening 20 minutes, Wales returned to the red zone and Josh Navidi was the man to burrow over from close range. With Biggar converting and then trading penalties with Jalibert in made the score 17-17 at the break and left the game balanced on a knife edge.
Biggar added three more points early in the second half before a crucial moment on the 50th minute as Justin Tipuric put in an inch perfect kick through for Josh Adams to chase. The winger’s hack forward found it’s way to Tomos Williams who popped the ball back up for Adams to dive over, with Biggar converting.
A Jalibert penalty cut the deficit before a somewhat controversial moment as Wales drove a maul towards the French line which was illegally stopped short. With a penalty advantage the ball went right for Rees-Zammit to dive over in the corner was adjudged to have placed the ball just out of play. Referee Luke Pearce went back to yellow card Mohamed Haouas for the maul offence but did not award a penalty try.
Biggar took the three points from the penalty, a debated decision in hindsight, before Pearce was back in the action a few minutes later as France attacked despite being a man short. Going through phases in the Welsh 22 they eventually went left where Dulin scored, but a TMO review showed Paul Willemse making contact with the eye area of Wyn Jones in the build up and the second row was shown a red card.
Weirdly though, going down to 14-men permanently seemed to spark the French side back into life, as they moved the ball fluently and at speed. Wales could not cope and although Charles Ollivon was held up over the line, too many infringements in our own 22 saw Taulupe Faletau sent to the sin bin.
This was followed by another borderline decision as Liam Williams chased a kick clear, made the tackle and then retreated to the gate where he dived over the breakdown to challenge Dupont as he lifted the ball away from the ruck. Pearce adjudged the full-back to be illegal though and sent him to follow Faletau for 10 minutes.
Now with a man advantage France set about their comeback. With four minutes to go Alldritt carried into the red zone and Ollivon was in support to dive over on the very next phase. Romain Ntamack made the scoreline 27-30 from the tee, and then with the clock red, heartbreak.
Wales managed to turn over the home side after the kick off, but tried to see the game out with 90 seconds to go and Cory Hill was penalised for going off his feet. France kicked into our 22 and after 12 phases of attack worked an overlap on the left where Dulin scored the match winning try.
The most unlikely of Grand Slams just wasn’t to be in the end, but the fact that Wales were even close to one is something to be proud of considering where we were at the end of 2021. It’s credit to the coaching staff for working through the problems seen last year, and the players for believing in what they were trying to achieve.
Of course the Six Nations title may still be on, and now we look to Scotland to do us a favour against France next week.