France back on the right track after overpowering Wales

After a tricky start to their Guinness Men’s Six Nations campaign, this was more like it from France.

Setbacks have been few and far between during Fabien Galthie’s reign but the premature exit from their own World Cup and disappointing start to the Championship led to some awkward questions being asked.

Failure to beat Italy a fortnight ago not only ended their Championship chances but for the first time in Galthie’s reign, a finish outside the top two became a very realistic probability.

Galthie responded by making an unprecedented eight changes to his starting XV for Round 4.

His new-look side took a while to find their rhythm but once they hit top gear France were unstoppable, scoring 25 unanswered points inside the final quarter to win 45-24 - their best ever points return in Cardiff.

Wales played on French nerves early on but they stood up to the test and know that a win over England in Round 5 will likely see them reclaim second place.

"I have a lot of pride, I am very happy to have been able to participate in this great victory,” said Galthie.


“We worked all week to achieve this result and had a very good game.

“We had to experience these difficult moments, the challenge against Italy, and understand why we were stuck like that.

“It was a difficult period but the players got through it with righteousness and honesty.

"When we have experienced what we have experienced, we want to savour every moment together.

"But next weekend we will have to respond, too. We're going to enjoy this evening before going back to prepare for the match against England."

Ironically, France arguably defended better when down to 14 men against Italy than they did against Wales.

They were cut open on a couple of occasions in the first half and punished by scores from Rio Dyer and Tomos Williams, while Joe Roberts had options outside him when dotting down for Wales’ third try.

But crucially France's discipline was much tighter and any team who concedes just three penalties give themselves a great chance of victory.

Factor in a more potent attack and renewed power up front and this was as good as France have played since the first half of their World Cup exit to South Africa.

“We had a great performance today,” said captain Gregory Alldritt. “We were really frustrated after the Italy game and we wanted to make our fans proud again. We are really happy.

“We have a massive pack and we wanted to be tough on the collision. We have been good in this part of the game.

“I think we’ve been quite good in defence, we’ve been tough in the contact, we just need to fix a few details in the middle of the pitch with our connection.”

What was also pleasing was France's response to conceding early tries in both halves. From the moment they went 24-20 down in the 44th minute they never really looked like conceding again.

The replacement forwards made a huge impact, decimating Wales at scrum time and in the loose and it was fitting that Romain Taofifénua and Georges-Henri Colombe arrived from the bench to score the game-sealing third and fourth tries.

The game went away from Wales before they even realised and Warren Gatland bemoaned their passivity to the turning tide.

Asked where it all went wrong, he said: “The last 15 minutes. You could look at all the games where we put teams under pressure and we didn’t manage it again today.

“We had a turnover and they ended up scoring. Those games where you say stay in the fight and don’t give away anything soft. We overplayed a bit and gave them something soft.

“We need to learn quickly about handling those moments.”

Wales do not have long to patch up their wounds. They are up first on Super Saturday against an Italy side who will fear no one after their historic win over Scotland.

Wales have not finished bottom in 21 years and Gatland knows it will take more than a brave effort to stop the buoyant Azzurri.

"It’s massive,” said Gatland, speaking about the significance of the game. But we’ve got to be excited by that. We’ve got to embrace that challenge. You can’t go into your shell. There’s going to be a lot of pressure. We’ve got to embrace it and front up.

“It is about stepping up and making sure we learn from the things we have been doing. We have players who are not quite ready yet, some are not quite ready yet at this level and they have got to learn very, very quickly what Test Match rugby is about.”