rugby

Wales defeats France to keep Six Nations title defence alive

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The Canadian Press
2/21/2014 5:30:35 PM
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CARDIFF -- Wales gave a two-time defending champion's response to a demoralizing defeat by whipping France 27-6 and keeping its Six Nations title defence alive on Friday.

So shaken to the core was Wales by its 26-3 demolition from Ireland, the only unbeaten team left in the championship, that coach Warren Gatland warned his British Lions-laden side that careers were on the line under the Millennium Stadium roof.

The players' answer was a robust performance of power, pace and poise, adding up to a third straight win over France last achieved 42 years ago.

"That was the response we were looking for," captain Sam Warburton said. "We knew we had it in us."

He admitted playing for their jobs was also an incentive.

"We said in the week that we don't want to take our places for granted. We have probably worked our hardest in the last two weeks," he said.

Stand-in centre George North scored after five minutes and fullback Leigh Halfpenny's boot punished frequent French errors and a second-rate scrum with five penalties that propped up a 20-6 halftime lead. When Warburton reached out to plant the ball on the line in the 64th, the score became Wales' biggest win over France at home since 1950.

That margin will be vital in terms of points difference in the standings if Wales, which jumped over previously unbeaten France into second place, can stay on track and Ireland lose somewhere. The Irish are at Twickenham on Saturday.

Wales' performance wasn't assured beforehand, certainly not after lock Alun-Wyn Jones, who captained the Lions in their series-clinching win in Australia last year, withdrew just before the match with a foot injury. That gave a second Welshman, Jake Ball, his first test start beside scrumhalf Rhys Webb, whose zippy pass was a big factor in Wales' frantic start.

Five minutes in, lineout ball was spread left and inside centre Jamie Roberts drew two defenders. North gave Halfpenny an overlap and he chipped ahead. France fullback Bruce Dulin claimed the ball just before the tryline, but he was accidentally clipped in the head by teammate Jean-Marc Doussain and dropped the ball, which North pounced on in goal.

Halfpenny couldn't convert. He seemed to kick only the hardest goalkicks, and France kept giving him chances, especially from a scrum that Wales eventually got on top of.

Captain Pascal Pape conceded the second penalty from a ruck, and tighthead prop Nicolas Mas the third for slipping in a scrum. Wesley Fofana was milked by North in a ruck for Halfpenny's fourth, and a tighthead conceded just before halftime ended up giving Halfpenny his fifth penalty.

Moments before then, referee Alain Rolland told both captains the scrum was a mess and threatened to dish out cards. He upheld his promise in the 50th, sin-binning Mas and counterpart Gethin Jenkins. By then, Wales was in charge and the outmuscled French had few options.

"It was a catastrophic first half, our discipline was poor, and we gave away too many penalties," France coach Philippe Saint-Andre said. "We were totally apathetic in the first half."

Dulin said, "They got on top of us very quickly and we couldn't pull ourselves together. We didn't go about things the right way.

"We didn't start the game well and they just gained in confidence. After their match against Ireland they really wanted to put their foot down."

France had a try rightfully disallowed early in the first half for a knockon, but the backs received no ball and didn't go close again until the 50th, when centre Mathieu Bastareaud slipped North and was stopped just short of the tryline, and couldn't offload to Dulin or winger Hugo Bonneval.

The French backs were more involved in the second half, but Wales' defence was smothering. Frustrated No. 8 Louis Picamoles got himself sin-binned in the 62nd and Wales took advantage. From a Roberts barging run up the middle, Warburton charged off a ruck and just managed in a double tackle with an outstretched arm to put the ball on the line.

With 10 minutes to go, Wales substituted Adam Jones and Jenkins, Ball, Dan Lydiate, Webb, Rhys Priestland and Halfpenny, and all were cheered off as returning heroes deserve to be.

Sam Warburton (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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