HEARTBREAK for Wales and Welsh supporters as France seized their chance and gained a last-gasp win in Paris.
With ten minutes left on the clock, ten points to the good, a French try disallowed, and a French forward red-carded for making contact with the eyes of Wales’ captain, the game looked all but over.
But France dominated the game as Wales lost Taulupe Faletau and Liam Williams to yellow cards and were fortunate not to be reduced to twelve men after a series of penalties conceded near their line.
In truth, the game’s final quarter was all about relentless French pressure as Wales clung on by their fingertips in the face of wave after wave of French pressure.
Even then, with the clock ticking towards the red zone, Wales conceded a breakdown penalty when on the halfway line.
It’s all about the finest of margins and what-ifs, but if Wales hadn’t infringed they would’ve run the clock down through the phases before hoofing the ball into the empty stands at Stade de France to claim the Grand Slam.
Ifs, buts, and maybes.
For sixty minutes, Wales controlled the game. The tempo was frenetic, the physicality brutal, the skill-level unbelievable.
Wales had more intent going forward and were astonishing in defence. France looked as though they were out on their feet only to rally as only Les Bleus can and find another gear.
The first-half was exhilarating stuff.
France came out full of strong running and clever movement and took the lead on seven minutes as Romain Taofifenua powered over from short range, converted by Matthieu Jalibert.
Two minutes later, Wales were over the whitewash at the French end only for the outstanding Charles Ollivon to hold up Gareth Davies over the line.
From the resulting five-metre scrum, Wales showed patience by building pressure on the French line. A smart pass from Gareth Davies picked out Dan Biggar, who cut a fantastic inside line at speed to score.
Back came the French. In a moment of individual genius, Jalibert chipped over the Welsh defence, picked up his own kick ahead and found Dupont on his shoulder to cross for the easiest of scores.
Wales hit back immediately through Josh Navidi, who powered over from close range, with the extras again added by Dan Biggar.
Twenty minutes gone and 14 a-piece.
The game was being played at a speed that surely couldn’t be maintained.
But it could.
Wales threw everything at the French, who looked increasingly rattled as the half progressed. The Blues went back in the tackle as Wales swarmed forward. It looked like a score could come at any moment and it was only mildly anti-climactic when Wales took the lead for the first time courtesy of a Dan Biggar penalty.
It didn’t last long, and France drew level at 17-17 with an Ntamack penalty after
Biggar was penalised for a high tackle on French centre Fickou.
Second-half and Wales started targeting the French backs with high and cleverly weighted short kicks.
The Welsh hammered at the French line so hard that either a try or a penalty had to come. And a penalty kick from Biggar it was.
Two minutes later and Wales were seven points further ahead as North claimed hard yards, offloaded to Williams before Tipuric’s clever grubber kick was gathered by Tomos Williams for Josh Adams to cross. Biggar converted again and Wales were in the box-seat.
Back came France, who attacked at speed before Ntamack took them within a score with a penalty after a no-arms tackle by Justin Tipuric.
Wales’ forwards then showed their power with a massive drive from a maul which took them within metres of the French line. The ball sped across field while Wales had the penalty advantage.
After an acrobatic Louis Rees-Zammit special was chalked off for touch in goal, back Wales went in front of the posts for Biggar to pop over a routine three-pointer to restore the ten-point lead.
From there on out was almost all French pressure and strong Welsh defence.
Marchand was held up over the line by Faletau.
Then Dulin crossed in the corner after a series of close-range drives in midfield. It looked like a sound try but the referee called play back to look at a possible infringement at the preceding breakdown.
For all the world, it looked like the try might be chalked off for an illegal clear out of Welsh prop Wyn Jones. However, referee Luke Pearce wanted a closer look at an incident involving French lock Willemse and Wales skipper Alun Wyn Jones.
The replay showed that after clearing the ruck with an illegal neck roll, Willemse made contact around the captain’s eyes. The try was chalked off and Willemse sent off.
And so here we are, back where we were at the beginning of this article. Relentless French pressure.
First Ollivon crossed to get France within three points.
Wales needed to pen France in their own half with ninety seconds on the clock. A French knock-on. Wales have the ball. Sixty seconds left. The chance to run down the clock missed. A penalty and field position conceded. France sniffing their chance, keeping the ball alive. More pressure, The ball goes wide with the clock well into the red.
And Dulin crosses out wide to break Welsh hearts.