France 28-9 Wales, Six Nations, Stade de France, March 19
Wounded France hammer Wales
March 19, 2011
Lionel Nallet scored a brace of tries for France in a comfortable win
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France rebounded from last weekend's shock loss to Italy by hammering Wales 28-9 in Paris on Saturday night.
After a difficult week, in which their character was questioned by coach Marc Lievremont, France secured second place in this year's Six Nations, smashing Wales' faint hopes of overhauling England at the summit of the table in the process.
The hosts were comfortable winners but few fans will have been thrilled by the spectacle at the Stade de France, where two sides lacking cutting edge went at it across 80 minutes only for the aggression of the French back-row to swing the result.
Their dominance of the ruck laid on Lionel Nallet's opening try and the Racing Metro lock was on hand in the second-half to capitalise on a charge-down from James Hook, who endured a poor outing and was sin-binned in the second-half, moments prior to Vincent Clerc's well-taken score sealing victory for the hosts.
Wales travelled across the Channel without defence coach Shaun Edwards, who was allegedly disciplined for an unknown breach following last weekend's win over Ireland, and winger Shane Williams, who was denied a Championship swansong by a knee injury. The impressive George North took his place out wide after recovering from a shoulder problem, while Adam Jones returned at tight-head after a long lay-off.
Wales began with a spring in their step and had France under pressure early, with Sam Warburton, Ryan Jones and Alun-Wyn Jones all smashing forward before Hook landed an early penalty from a tight angle.
France's response was immediate and showcased their heavyweight pack at its best. Having forced Hook into conceding a lineout inside his 22 their catch and drive was mercilessly efficient, eating up the ground before Nallet was stopped just short. Paul James was penalised for not rolling away and Parra levelled the scores with ease.
The game's first scrum ended anti-climactically with a free kick to Wales, which was taken quickly by Mike Phillips. The scrum-half sent Jones smashing forward, where France were again guilty of infringing. Hook this time pulled his shot well wide as Warburton, arguably Wales' outstanding player of the Championship, was forced off with a knee injury.
France rattled through the phases and put the visitors under pressure but, losing patience, put the ball long through Francois Trinh-Duc. The fly-half's poor option was rewarded however as Lee Byrne smashed his clearance kick out on the full, only for Nallet to spill the ball at the resulting lineout.
The hosts rescued the situation with more superb breakdown work, where a charge from Jones was turned around to leave France hammering on the door five metres out. Wales held out thanks to a penalty for sealing off but found themselves behind soon after when Phillips' lazy chase for a stolen lineout resulted in three points for Parra.
Wales snatched the momentum ever so briefly with a well-worked move along the blindside, where quick hands from Byrne sent Leigh Halfpenny galloping for the line only for Trinh-Duc to send the Cardiff Blues winger sprawling with a magnificent tap tackle.
France's response was to win a penalty at the scrum, against James, and smash the ball long in hope of again turning the screw with a maul. Their ploy worked a treat as Wales were marched backwards, conceding a penalty only for Parra to pull his effort wide from the left touchline.
The hosts were not made to wait for an incursion onto the scoreboard however and again it was the power of their counter-ruck that did the damage. Byrne was isolated and turned over and from there Nallet bounded away from the ruck, carrying Hook and Jonathan Davies across the whitewash with him. Parra missed his conversion, but the damage had been done.
Hook landed three points immediately after the break but a horror error from the Wales fly-half handed the game to their hosts. Hook took an age to prepare his clearance from the restart and was charged down by Julien Pierre, who offloaded for Nallet to crash over from close range.
Hook responded with another penalty as Nallet lost his head at a ruck but Wales' attempt to copy French tactics backfired as they conceded a penalty, ably dispatched from distance by Parra. Wales finally found some open space as Hook eluded a couple of defenders but as Byrne latched onto his offload and sprang clear, his support evaporated.
Worse was to come for Wales as Hook was sent to the sin-bin for an off the ball tackle on Parra and France took only moments to capitalise for their third try. After another maul there was ball to use for the backs, with Trinh-Duc knocking a perfectly-weighted chip over the Welsh defence for Clerc to snaffle and score. Parra added the simple conversion.
Wales briefly threatened to make a game of it when Jamie Roberts crashed through in midfield, only for his support runner, Davies, to be felled inches short of the line. France were penalised for not rolling away but from the ensuing quick tap Wales went back to their pedestrian ways and coughed up another breakdown penalty.
North injected some pace into proceedings with a brilliant break from inside his 22, where Clerc was left scrambling, but again Wales' support play was at fault, with Jones attempting an over-ambitious basketball pass over the top to gift the ball to their opponents.
Hook did not emerge from the sin-bin, with Stephen Jones and Dwayne Peel introduced in tandem at halfback, and Clerc was denied a second try by the smallest of margins soon after. The winger looked to have made the line only to be dragged out centimetres short, with his despairing dive the last chance of the game.
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