North double helps Wales stun France in Paris
SIX NATIONS REPORT: A George North try double helped Wales overcome a 16-point first-half deficit to seal a dramatic 24-19 victory over France in the 2019 Six Nations opener and equal their longest winning sequence since 1999.
In an uncharacteristically error-ridden first-half, Wales spilled the ball and conceded turnovers under pressure from a fantastic showing by the home back-row led by ubiquitous No.8 Louis Picamoles.
Despite racing to a 16-0 half-time lead, France were left to rue their woeful goal kicking at the rain-hit Stade de France, Morgan Parra and Camille Lopez combining to miss 13 points with their respective boots.
France opened at a lick and when Wenceslas Lauret secured a turnover in their own half, Yoann Huget charged up the field. The wing was brought down, but after several phases was back in the thick of it, combining with Lopez to find Picamoles on the outside.
The ever-present Montpellier No.8 made no mistake, stepping inside Gareth Anscombe and crashing through Liam Williams’ tackle to cross for the try.
Recalled Parra missed the conversion and then a long-range penalty. Anscombe then went dreadfully wide with a penalty of his own, a clear reminder of how much Wales miss metronomic Leigh Halfpenny, out with concussion.
Liam Williams then fluffed a try-scoring opportunity after good work from Josh Navidi, failing to draw and pass with one defender left and then being forced into a knock-on under pressure from Picamoles.
Things went worse for Wales when the French backs linked with outstanding flank Arthur Iturria, who looked like he was going nowhere until he straighted and drew two defenders, simultaneously popping up a beautiful back-of-the-hand offload to Huget, who streaked in at the corner.
Parra again missed the tricky conversion, Anscombe incredibly following suit with his second penalty attempt minutes later.
As chants of “Allez, Les Bleus!” rang around the stadium, the French XV showed no signs of the malaise that saw them win only three of 11 Tests last season as they seemed to have the measure of their rattled rivals.
A clever chip-and-chase by Damian Penaud saw the winge snag Tomos Williams over the Wales line, Lopez going close from the resulting scrum before the Welsh conceded a penalty, the flyhalf taking over kicking dutied from Clermont teammate Parra and put the home side 13-0 up.
With three minutes of the half to play, Lopez put what seemed like a nail in the Welsh coffin with a drop-goal.
It all changed as North then followed up on an innocuous Hadleigh Parkes grubber which Huget seemed to have covered before looking on in disbelief as the ball squirted over the line, past him, on a plate for the Wales wing to touch down.
Anscombe converted, his last act before being replaced by Dan Biggar, to pull Wales within two points.
No team had ever come back from more than 11 points down at half-time to win a Six Nations match, and Wales had never come back from more than 13 points to win any match.
France’s goal-kicking shocker continued as Lopez missed a penalty, before Biggar booted Wales into a one-point lead with one of his own.
Flank Justin Tipuric, increasingly to the fore towards the end of the game, did well to charge down a Lopez drop-goal with 12 minutes to play as the rhythm of the match became increasingly disjointed with a raft of replacements.
When the Welsh scrum folded under pressure, Lopez this time made no mistake for France to regain the lead.
But French hearts were broken when North grabbed his double in the 73rd minute when he intercepted the ball as lock Sebastien Vahaamahina attempted to fire out an ambitious, floated pass.
Biggar, a supremely steadying force at flyhalf, hit the extras to seal an historic win for Wales.
Man of the match: George North took advantage of France’s severe lapses in concentration to score two crucial tries in the second half. The impact of Dan Biggar and Gareth Davies off the bench also made a big difference in the second half. For France, Louis Picamoles was impressive on attack and on defence. His physicality and hard work at the breakdowns caused Wales a few problems. Damian Penaud and Maxime Medard also had some nice run runs with ball in hand. However, the award goes to Wales fullback Liam Williams who was a menace with ball in hand. He always made metres with the ball and he beat a number of defenders with his pace out wide. Williams was also a force under the high ball in pressure situations.
Moment of the match: There were two and both involved George North. The first was in the 51st minute when he took advantage of an absolute howler from Yoann Huget near the French tryline to score. The second came in the 72nd minute when his intercept try broke hearts all over France.
Villain of the match: French fans will probably say it is the French players with their Jekyll and Hyde nature on the field.
Tries: Picamoles, Huget
Pens: Lopez 2
Tries: T Williams, North 2
Cons: Anscombe 2, Biggar
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France: 15 Maxime Medard, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Wesley Fofana, 12 Romain Ntamack, 11 Yoann Huget, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Arthur Iturria, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Paul Willemse, 4 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Guilhem Guirado (captain), 1 Jefferson Poirot.
Replacements: 16 Julien Marchand, 17 Dany Priso, 18 Demba Bamba, 19 Felix Lambey, 20 Gregory Alldritt, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Gael Fickou, 23 Geoffrey Doumayrou.
Wales: 15 Liam Williams, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Tomos Williams, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Josh Navidi, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 4 Adam Beard, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Rob Evans
Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Samson Lee, 19 Cory Hill, 20 Aaron Wainwright, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Dan Biggar, 23 Owen Watkin.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Matthew Carley (England), Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)
AFP & @rugby365com