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Late Taofifénua and Lucu tries seal emphatic win for France against Wales | Six Nations 2024

Late Taofifénua and Lucu tries seal emphatic win for France against Wales | Six Nations 2024
Late Taofifénua and Lucu tries seal emphatic win for France against Wales | Six Nations 2024

Wales are staring at that wooden spoon. Another run-out for these youngsters, another credible effort, but the challenge against a France side who can cut just as sharply as they bludgeon remorselessly was too much in the final quarter.

Wales held a 24-20 lead as the hour mark approached, three tries to two ahead. But when a side come at you from as many angles as France did, and in such a variety of ways, the ordeal of holding them out will tell eventually.

Three tries in the final quarter swept the hosts away, leaving them at the bottom of the table, four points adrift of Italy, who will be their visitors for the final round this weekend. Wales are trying to avoid their first wooden spoon since 2003.

“It’s massive for us,” said Warren Gatland. “But we’ve got to be excited. You can’t go into your shell. We have to embrace that, work hard next week and put in a performance.”

France needed a conversion at the last to move ahead of Scotland on points difference into third, but Thomas Ramos missed for the first time from out wide. By then, their dominance was total. Maxime Lucu went over at the end from Damian Penaud’s inside ball to crown the win. The vociferous travelling support went wild again, with good reason. Had France lost, they would have been the ones staring at that spatula. The indignity after such recent highs. As it is, they could claim second with a victory against England on Saturday in Lyon. It is still mathematically possible, if all but inconceivable, that they could win the Six Nations.

Not that either side started like a team staring humiliation in the face. If defence is a barometer for desperation Wales and France were playing as if on their holidays already. Some of the lapses in structure and vigour must have been alarming, particularly if you are called Shaun Edwards, who is renowned for a lot of things, but coaching passive defences is not one of them.

His return to his home of so many years was rudely disrupted in only the 10th minute. Sam Costelow and Ramos had just exchanged penalties, when Rio Dyer picked up a loose ball after Tomos Williams’s half-break. He stepped inside Grégory Alldritt with ease and cannot have believed his luck to see a clear path to the posts, which he duly took for the game’s first try.

Defence may have looked optional at times, but that does tend to happen when attacks are sharp. France brought in a host of new players for this game, including some more backs who, early indications suggest, will not be boring to watch. Léo Barré at full-back looks imperious with ball in hand, and the more we see of Nicolas Depoortère, with similar, the better.

As for the rest of them, we know already. After another Ramos penalty when Wales wilted in the face of enormous pressure at one of their own scrums, Louis Bielle-Biarrey went on one of countless forays down the left. The ball came left, Ramos looped, and Penaud sent Gaël Fickou on a run to the corner.

Romain Taofifénua (right), under pressure from Gareth Davies, touches down France’s fourth try. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

France did not hold the lead for long. A catastrophic mix-up in their midfield defence allowed Owen Watkin to break. His inside ball sent Williams to the posts.

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Williams’s opposite man, another of the newcomers, Nolann Le Garrec, had a fantastic game, claiming pole position in the absence of Antoine Dupont. His try on the half-hour earned France a three-point lead at the break. Bielle-Biarrey chased a Le Garrec chip to the corner to force an attacking scrum. Le Garrec was able to step inside Dafydd Jenkins far too easily on the fringe of the first ruck, after Fickou’s hard carry to the line.

Fickou’s opposite number, Joe Roberts, marked his Six Nations debut with a try just after the break, following sweet interplay between Tommy Reffell and Costelow, to establish that lead for the third quarter. But France really upped the pace and intensity after that.

Georges-Henri Colombe thought he had scored a few minutes shy of the hour, but the TMO found he had dropped the ball under the sticks. No matter, he barged over 10 minutes later, after Penaud and his mates made merry down the right.

Romain Taofifénua claimed France’s fourth a few minutes later again, charging down Gareth Davies’s attempted clearance to score in the corner. Another Ramos penalty moved France more than two scores clear in the last 10 minutes, before Lucu’s score at the death.

France will take some stopping now. Alas, they have left such form too late. For Wales, a bit of form cannot come soon enough.

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