Ibanez: France ‘stepped up under pressure’ in Wales win

Leigh Halfpenny and Virimi Vakatawa  22/2//2020
France general manager Raphael Ibanez was left beaming after his side recorded their first win on Welsh soil in a decade, in a frenetic game at Principality Stadium.

France general manager Raphael Ibanez was left beaming after his side recorded their first win on Welsh soil in a decade, in a frenetic game at Principality Stadium.

France’s 27-23 victory keeps their hopes of a first Grand Slam victory since 2010 alive, as Romain Ntamack’s interception try proved to be the difference between the two sides in Cardiff.

There was action from the first whistle to the last in Saturday evening’s clash, with both sides feeling they could have walked away with the victory.

It was France who held on though, after an impressive performance both with and without the ball, which Ibanez believes shows the maturity of a young and inexperienced squad.

“We are very pleased for the boys, they were really brave under pressure,” Ibanez said. “We knew with our young team it’s always difficult to experience that fantastic atmosphere, but I think we dealt pretty well with the pressure, and played some good rugby as well.

“We are lucky enough to have some young players that are very talented, they won the Under-20 World Championship recently, but it’s a big gap to go to the biggest stage.

“But with the coaching staff we try to give that confidence and trust, we are very proud, we know we have a very young front row who stepped up under pressure.”

Dan Biggar’s three penalties was all Wales had to show for their efforts at the interval, as Fabien Galthié’s side showcased their flair and creativity throughout the first period.

Anthony Bouthier grabbed the first try of the game as he profited from a fumble by Leigh Halfpenny under the high ball, before Paul Willemse dotted down from a neat lineout set-play to see France lead 17-9 at the break.

The hosts came out a different beast after the break, roared on by a typically boisterous Cardiff crowd, as their early pressure on the visitors’ try-line paid off, with Dillon Lewis bundling over under the posts.

But no sooner had they closed the gap that France scored another try of their own, as Ntamack plucked a Nick Tompkins pass out of the air before running in unopposed.

Biggar touched down late on to give Wales hope, before Wayne Pivac’s side threw everything at the visitors, in what was a riveting end to a fantastic spectacle in the Welsh capital.

But France’s rearguard, coached by former Wales defence coach Shaun Edwards, held out with some heroic performances all over the pitch to make it three wins from three in the 2020 Guinness Six Nations.

And Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones believes Edwards’ influence could already be noticed in a resilient French display, while also resenting missed opportunities for his side.

“We know they’ve got a very good defence coach, and they were an embodiment of that today,” the 34-year-old said.

“There was a couple of telling opportunities where we exerted pressure in both halves but we probably didn’t convert.

“You need to make your own luck sometimes, but we just fell short on the scoreboard.

“I think it was telling that in the 80 minutes we gave them two penalties and they scored from two errors on our part.”

Ibanez was equally gushing in his praise for Edwards after another huge defensive effort from Les Bleus.

“I think our defensive effort was just massive,” he added. “I think the boys put their bodies on the line and it was an awesome performance from our defence through the game.

“Shaun gave so much to Wales for years and years and now we’re really please to have him with us. After the game you could feel he was just happy for the French team.”