Six Nations

Grand Slam glory for Wales

2012-03-17 18:44
Leigh Halfpenny (AP)

Cardiff - Wales claimed their third Six Nations Grand Slam in eight years when they beat World Cup finalists France 16-9 at the Millennium Stadium here on Saturday.

The Welsh side, marshalled magnificently by flyhalf Rhys Priestland and indefatigable flanker Dan Lydiate, produced a nervous display but still managed to dominate a conservative France team that relied heavily on a kicking game.

The victory, following successes over Ireland (23-21), Scotland (27-13), England (19-12) and Italy (24-3), was sweet revenge for the heart-breaking one-point loss Wales suffered against Les Bleus in the World Cup semi-final.

A stunning solo try by winger Alex Cuthbert, allied with three penalties and a conversion by Leigh Halfpenny were enough to see off a French side that scored three penalties through Dimitri Yachvili (2) and Lionel Beauxis.

Wales mounted the early pressure, Jonathan Davies cut down by Wesley Fofana in the corner, but it was France who got on the scoreboard first, Yachvili kicking an easy penalty in the 11th minute after Gethin Jenkins infringed at a ruck.

Priestland was the surprise first-up kicker for Wales, with Halfpenny having been preferred earlier in the tournament, but his first effort came back off the post.

A slick lineout move saw Yachvili set up hooker William Servat for a charge at the line, but a fine covering tackle by George North cut the Toulouse veteran down.

When Alun Wyn Jones turned over Thierry Dusautoir in midfield, Wales recycled the ball quickly, Priestland finding Cuthbert out wide.

The 21-year-old winger then produced two scintillating side-steps to leave the French cover for dead and go in under the posts for a superb five-pointer that Halfpenny converted.

Halfpenny increased Wales' lead with a penalty after Jonathan Davies tackled Beauxis man-and-ball, hacked ahead and Alexis Palisson held on too long while covering.

The Welsh fullback saw his second penalty attempt on the stroke of half-time come back off the upright, with the home side dominating both territory and possession.

Sam Warburton came off at half-time with a shoulder injury, and France seized the early momentum in the second period.

Replacement fullback Jean-Marcellin Buttin chipped over the home defence but while Jenkins was on hand to snaffle the ball, there was a ruck infringement and Beauxis kicked a penalty to cut Wales' lead to four.

Beauxis missed a drop-goal a minute later but France looked a different side when they opted to run the ball.

Halfpenny made no error, however, with a 52-metre penalty in the 53rd minute.

Wales were almost caught out when Beauxis spotted Buttin alone on the wing. Spurning a kick at goal, the fly-half sent out a pinpoint kick to the strapping back, who was just hauled down before the line by man-of-the-match Lydiate.

Yachvili kicked a 73rd minute penalty after the Welsh scrum collapsed to set up a nerve-wracking final five minutes.

Francois Trinh-Duc then foolishly threw the ball into the crowd when tackled into touch, South African referee Craig Joubert left no alternative but to hand the increasingly influential Halfpenny another penalty, which he knocked over.

Wales saw out the final remaining minutes to claim an 11th Grand Slam title.

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