Six Nations

Wales back in title hunt

2014-02-22 07:54
George North (Gallo Images)

Cardiff - Warren Gatland got exactly the reaction he wanted from his Welsh side as they thrust themselves back into the Six Nations title race with their biggest win over France in 64 years.

The Wales coach issued a stern ultimatum to his players after the 26-3 defeat in Ireland that their international careers were on the line at the Millennium Stadium and they responded with a 27-6 victory in Cardiff on Friday.

"It was more a reminder than a threat," said Gatland, whose team are bidding to become the first to win three successive outright Six Nations titles.

"There is a responsibility that comes with wearing this jersey and we are such a small playing nation that we cannot afford to take anything for granted.

"We all took a long hard look at ourselves after a performance in Dublin that was just not acceptable," the New Zealander added.

"The players responded brilliantly to the pressure we put them under and we redeemed ourselves after letting ourselves down in Dublin.

"Our title chances are a lot better now than they were after Ireland. Everyone expected this game to be a lot closer, but we are now back in contention.

"With a bit of luck, it may all come down to the last game at home against Scotland," said Gatland, whose side made light of the late withdrawal of lock Alun Wyn Jones with a foot infection just an hour before kick-off.

A try in each half for the home side, the first after five minutes by George North capitalising on an error by French full-back Brice Dulin and the latter from captain Sam Warburton, when the visitors were down to 14 men, sent Wales on the way to their biggest win against France since a 21-0 home success back in 1950.

Full-back Leigh Halfpenny, who will play for French giants Toulon next season, kicked five first-half penalties and converted Warburton's try for a match tally of 17 points.

The only French points came in the shape of two first-half penalties, one each from scrum-half Jean-Marc Doussain and fly-half Jules Plisson.

But they missed with two other shots at goal and failed to score a try against the Welsh defence for the fourth game in a row.

"When you know the first 20 minutes will be crucial after the Wales team lost two weeks ago, but you concede 11 points in 10 minutes, what can you say?", admitted France coach Philippe Saint-Andre.

- 'Our discipline was poor' -

"We knew that if we wanted to win here we had to start well. But we gave away two silly penalties and a try very early on.

"The Wales team were better, but when you have a start like that it is not acceptable," the former France captain added.

"We came here to play well, but our motivation had to be as strong as the Wales team. Our desire had to be the same as theirs, but our discipline was poor.

"We had two opportunities to score tries that we missed and we missed two easy kicks.

"That is 20 points that we lost and what more can you say?

"Wales did well and deserved to win, but they didn't have to do much to win -- they just fed off our mistakes, had a strong defence and strong set piece."

Defeat ended France's hopes of a Grand Slam but, as Wales proved last season following an opening loss to Ireland, 'Les Bleus' remain title contenders.

"We can still win the Six Nations. There are two games left and we need to target two wins if we want to finish well," said Saint-Andre.

France have to travel to Murrayfield to face Scotland in round four, while Wales head to Twickenham looking to repeat their victory over England there in 2012 and gain a confidence boost before they return to the London ground for a 2015 World Cup pool match against the tournament hosts.

Scorers:

Wales: Tries - North (6), Warburton (64); Conversion - Halfpenny (64); Penalties - Halfpenny (2, 10, 20, 35, 40)

France: Penalties - Doussain (17), Plisson (32)

Teams:

Wales
Leigh Halfpenny (James Hook 71); Alex Cuthbert, George North, Jamie Roberts, Liam Williams; Rhys Priestland (Dan Biggar 71), Rhys Webb (Mike Phillips 71); Toby Faletau, Sam Warburton (capt), Dan Lydiate (Justin Tipuric 71); Luke Charteris, Jake Ball (Andrew Coombs 71); Adam Jones (Rhodri Jones 71), Richard Hibbard (Ken Owens 57), Gethin Jenkins (Paul James 77)

Yellow card: Jenkins (51)

France
Brice Dulin; Yoann Huget, Mathieu Bastareaud (Gael Fickou 72), Wesley Fofana, Hugo Bonneval; Jules Plisson (Remi Tales 65), Jean-Marc Doussain (Maxime Machenaud 40); Louis Picamoles, Wenceslas Lauret, Yannick Nyanga (Vincent Debaty 50, Debaty rep by Damien Chouly 62); Yoann Maestri (Sebastien Vahaamahina 65), Pascal Pape (capt); Nicolas Mas, Dimitri Szarzewski (Brice Mach 65), Thomas Domingo (Yannick Forestier 65)

Yellow cards: Mas (51), Picalmoles (62)

Referee: Alain Rolland (IRL)

Read more on:    france  |  wales  |  six nations  |  rugby
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