Wales U20 fell to a second successive heavy defeat in round three of the U20 Six Nations on Thursday evening as France U20 swept to a comfortable victory.
Head coach Ioan Cunningham had originally made eight changes to the starting XV, although that changed to nine during the warm-up as Theo Bevacqua stepped in for the injured Garyn Phillips at loosehead prop.
However, things started on the same back foot they finished on against Ireland U20 last time out as a midfield turnover allowed Nolan Le Garrec the chance to open the scoring off the tee, but the scrum-half’s kick slid wide.
When a second France penalty came around a few minutes later they opted to kick to the corner, and after seven phases of battering at the door it was Mathias Haddad who powered over from close range, with Le Garrec adding the extras.
That seemed to wake Wales up though as first an Alex Mann break from the base of a ruck got us moving forward, before some continued possession built up confidence. When a clearance kick from the away side went over the dead ball line an attacking scrum saw Dan John carry hard on phase one before Will Reed released Eddie James who’s offload sent Jacob Beetham over for a try. Reed levelling the scores.
From that point on in the half it was all France though as a Reed handling error from the restart gave them cheap possession before Mann was adjudged to have blocked a tap penalty and shown a yellow card. Les Bleus opted for the scrum and Le Garrec got an offload away off the back of it for Alexandre Tchaptchet to score.
Reed’s tough time continued when he missed two penalty kicks in quick succession before kicking out on the full from his own territory. Wales were not switched on to the danger and winger Louis Bielle Biarrey was alive to a quick through to race down the sideline and score.
France thought they had a second try immediately after an end-to-end attack, but a knock on brought play back, only for the Welsh set piece to offer up free possession in our own 22 which the visitors gladly took advantage of through Tchaptchet again. Le Garrec converted both tries for a 7-26 lead.
There was just time left in the first half for another Wales yellow card as Eddie James took Tchaptchet out in the air, and was perhaps fortunate to escape with only 10-minutes in the sin bin.
The home side did well to see out the time down to 14-men at the start of the second half with some better tempo attacking sets before steals from Tristan Davies and Dan John kept France out, although they were able to add a penalty from the boot of Le Garrec eventually.
In the end Les Bleus had to wait 15 minutes into the second half to complete the rout as Bielle Biarrey made yards down the left before fly-half Thibaut Debaes sniped from the base and beat two covering defenders to score an excellent solo try, which Le Garrec converted.
With the result effectively confirmed both sides turned to their benches which impacted the flow of the game, and when things settled down again inside the last 10 minutes it was Wales with the field position. A scrum in the opposition 22 was secured and Ethan Lloyd and Sam Costelow combined to release Morgan Richards who held his space well on the left wing.
A few minutes later a dominant scrum in the closing stages gave the hosts possession in the France 22 once again, and once the forwards had drawn in the defence, Lloyd fed Costelow who brought Beetham off his shoulder to crash over after a slight juggle of the ball. Costelow converted this one for a 19-36 final score.
For the second game in a row it was the gain line where Wales lost the game, regularly put on the back foot by France particularly during the first half, as the set piece and defensive organisation was somewhat lacking. However, there were positives later in the game as some attacking flair was discovered by stepping back from the gain line and giving ourselves a chance to run on to the ball.
Things don’t get any easier for the young Welshmen though with the only grand slam hopefuls left, England U20, next up on Wednesday.