Wales blast 'cheating' France
SIX NATIONS REACTION: France coach Guy Noves dubbed the 100-minute thriller against Wales "heroic and historic", but soon found himself in Welsh crosshairs amid accusations of cheating at the epic end of the Six Nations match on Saturday.
Damien Chouly was bundled over for an extremely late try, Camille Lopez converting to hand France a memorable 20-18 victory after camping out in the Welsh 22-metre area for 20 minutes past what should have been the final whistle in a firestorm of a finish.
But there was controversy over the 84th minute substitution of Uini Atonio, France bringing preferred tighthead prop Rabah Slimani, known for his devastating scrummaging power, back on to strengthen the set piece.
Noves insisted it was a genuine call by his medics for a head injury, a non-sequitur for a referee obliged to follow strict concussion rules that allow teams to replace injured props with front row teammates who have been already subbed off.
"They told me he [Atonio] was injured and I took my responsibility," said Noves.
But Wales counterpart Rob Howley saw it otherwise, saying there was "evidence to suggest that the integrity of the game has been brought into disrepute".
Not only was Slimani seen warming up minutes before going back on, Howley said, but "one of their coaches outside the technical area had a conversation with their doctor and within a minute of that obviously he'd got on and taken the tighthead off - that's outside the laws of the game".
"You can hear [referee] Wayne Barnes ask him [Atonio] if he's okay and he replies, 'I've got a sore back, I'm okay' and then the doctor comes on and he goes off. That wasn't Wayne's fault, he's listened to the medic."
Asked whether he would call it cheating, Howley said: "No, I just question the integrity of our game. If you want to call it that, it's entirely up to you. We love our game, but what we witnessed in the last 10 minutes, I haven't seen that before in the international game.
"Integrity in our game is pretty important and player welfare is equally important and over the last two and three years concussion has been at the forefront of our international game in many ways. What happened in last 10 minutes of that game should not happen on an international rugby field.
"The process leading up to the change of the French tighthead, him coming off, the way that process occurred. We love our game too much to have those decisions and ultimately the outcome of the game. It's hugely disappointing."
Noves, however, was keener to highlight his team's bravado to the end, with a great cameo played by livewire replacement scrumhalf Antoine Dupont in gearing up France's monster pack in a string of scrums.
"What can I say? It was a heroic match and a great team performance. I've never, ever seen an end of match like that at my age, and people call me grandpa. I'm proud of my players and I think the fans loved this end of the match, it shows the values of rugby.
"It was a very tough match, we led 10-9 at half-time. We showed character and we continued to make progress, they're still learning. They have a very tough defence but can't say anything bad after such a tough match," said Noves.
The France coach also downplayed concerns that Wales wing George North had been bitten on his arm in the final minutes, referee Barnes consulting the television official to check.
"I can bite myself," was Noves' glib reply.
Howley conceded that it was "inconclusive on television pictures" before adding: "There's evidence to suggest otherwise on George's arm."