Wales hit back to stun the French
By Andrew Baldock
Wales head coach Warren Gatland claimed his team had “forgotten how to lose” after they staged an epic Guinness Six Nations Championship fightback that stunned France 24-19 in Paris.
Wales - who included Exeter Chiefs prop Tomas Francis in their starting line-up at the Stade de France - trailed by 16 points at half-time, but responded magnificently, posting a 10th successive win and equalling their longest undefeated run since 1999.
It eclipsed the previous best comeback in Five or Six Nations history after France recovered a 15-0 deficit after 37 minutes to defeat Ireland 26-21 in 1989.
And Gatland’s squad now travel to Nice, where they will be based before leaving for Rome next Thursday and a Six Nations appointment with Italy.
Tries by scrum-half Tomos Williams and wing George North, who capitalised on opposite number Yoann Huget’s defensive howler, plus two Gareth Anscombe conversions and a Dan Biggar penalty edged Wales ahead following a 15-minute purple patch.
And after France went back in front through a Camille Lopez penalty, North claimed his second try – a stunning 60-metre interception effort that Biggar converted – to see Wales home.
“For me, the big difference between the two teams is that we’ve become a side that has probably forgotten how to lose and can dig deep like that,” Gatland said. “On the other hand, they (France) are probably a team searching for some confidence, having not had a great run in the last seven or eight matches.”
Wales, unbeaten since losing to Ireland in last season’s Six Nations, were up against it as Les Bleus dominated the opening 40 minutes and cruised clear through touchdowns by Louis Picamoles and Huget, while Lopez booted a penalty and a drop-goal.
Gatland added: “We know that we get better the more time we have together. To win this tournament, you need a bit of luck. We look back on our victories and know that sometimes you have the bounce of the ball. It’s tough in the Six Nations when you come up against one of the big teams. France in Paris is a real challenge, and if you can win the first game then you have a good chance of winning the tournament.”
Attention will now turn to the Italy clash, with two of Wales’ three games after that being at home – against title rivals England and Ireland.
Gatland added: “The whole thing for the last two years has been about creating depth. We’re trying to replicate what is going to happen later this year (at the World Cup). We would like other players to get an opportunity next week. Some might start, and some might be on the bench.”
France now play England at Twickenham on Sunday week and head coach Jacques Brunel said: “We’ll try to keep the same spirit despite the disappointment, and focus on the positives.
“We have to improve the control we lacked in this match. But facing England will be as difficult a challenge as facing Wales, and it will also be a mental test for us.We were fully committed, did lots of interesting things, especially in the first half. Even if we didn’t master everything, we managed to put Wales under pressure. We know they have a formidable defence, and unfortunately we didn’t start the second half well and they did.”