Alun Wyn Jones’ record-equalling night in Paris was ruined by a fourth Welsh defeat in a row and both the captain and his head coach admit there is serious work to do.
The Wales leader matched Richie McCaw’s world caps record of 148 at an empty Stade de France, but he took a cheap first-half shot from Bernard Le Roux that went unpunished. France scored three first-half tries, two from star man Antoine Dupont and a Cyril Baille effort, despite Leigh Halfpenny putting Wales ahead within a minute. But the inability of Wayne Pivac’s side to get on top in the contact area and their porous defence – both issues at the start of this year’s Six Nations – came back to haunt them.
Romain Ntamack’s boot and tries from Charles Ollivon and Teddy Thomas secured France’s win in the second half and despite a late consolation from Nicky Smith, Wales were well beaten.
“It was certainly a game we needed and you could see that with a lot of mistakes being made. We weren’t good enough in the air and gave too much ball back to France in open play,” said Pivac. “Also we had three turnovers at critical times and I think 12 in total. That is an area which we need to take away and look at to make sure we hold on to more possession.”
Jones is set to become world rugby’s outright appearance leader in Wales’ final Six Nations clash with Scotland on Saturday. He said: “It was a dream start getting that early score in the first half, but credit to the French – they were potent on the counterattack and capitalised. In parts we were decent but there are definitely a few gears for us to go up.”
Wales were ahead with just 58 seconds on the clock when Grégory Alldritt dropped Dan Biggar’s kick-off and Halfpenny went over in the corner. Biggar converted, but then pulled up and did not look 100% for the rest of the game. France scored three first-half tries as they made the most of poor Welsh defence. First, Ntamack steamed through a gap and found his half-back partner Dupont in support. Josh Adams stopped Les Bleus short of the line, but a quick tap saw prop Baille burrow over.
After Ntamack converted, Biggar responded with three points. Dupont then grabbed a quick brace with the outstanding Virimi Vakatawa and Ntamack leading the French charge for a 21-13 half-time lead. Biggar kicked a penalty at the start of the second half, but Alldritt should have had a fourth French try when he dropped a sitter with the line gaping. Ntamack provided some consolation with his first three-point effort before Biggar missed two key penalties and France put the game out of touch with a breakaway try.
Dupont was again at the heart of things with Ollivon the man to run clear and score. Ntamack converted and that was that. Replacement prop Smith did grab one back but Thomas scored out of nowhere with a brilliant chip and chase, and Ntamack rubbed salt in Welsh wounds from the touchline.
This was a friendly game, but Wales are now under pressure and will need to respond when they return to Six Nations action against Scotland in Llanelli. Pivac’s men must improve – and quickly.