Romain Ntamack’s intercept try helped France make it three wins from three in the Guinness Six Nations as they saw off Wales 27-23 in Cardiff.
It was the first time in a decade that they had come out on top at Principality Stadium, with tries from Anthony Bouthier, Paul Willemse and then Ntamack’s second-half score.
Wales battled throughout, and Dan Biggar’s late try, in addition to Dillon Lewis’ try, kept them right in it. But in the end a Camille Chat turnover as Wales attacked in search of the win, sealed victory in a memorable encounter.
Wales made the quicker start when Cyril Baille failed to roll away from a breakdown, with Dan Biggar knocking over the three points after four minutes.
France’s response immediate as they continued their trend of scoring early tries under Fabien Galthié.
This time it came from a good up-and-under by Ntamack, and when Leigh Halfpenny could not collect under pressure, Bouthier scooped it up and raced home. Ntamack converted to make it 7-3 after seven minutes.
He added three more ten minutes later when Lewis failed to roll away from a ruck.
Wales hit straight back, Baille caught offside with Biggar knocking over the resulting penalty.
France then came close to one of the tries of the Championship. Bouthier, was regularly coming into the midfield, burst through a gap before offloading to Virimi Vakatawa. He found Teddy Thomas out wide and after some clever offloads, the ball came back to Ntamack who put a cross-kick to Gaël Fickou. The centre, turned wing, collected, beat two men and went over. Unfortunately for France, the try was ruled out with Bouthier’s offload fractionally forwards.
They did not have to wait long for the score though. From a lineout five metres out, France played a clever set-move that saw Willemse peel off a maul and then power through Johnny McNicholl to reach over. From the touchline, Ntamack converted to make it 17-6.
Wales came back again, Nick Tompkins and Gareth Davies combining to get into position and when France went offside, Biggar added three more.
They could have had more before the break, France under huge pressure on their line, leading to Grégory Alldritt being sent to the sin-bin. But France held, eventually forcing a knock-on.
Wales continued that momentum early in the second half, and when Nick Tompkins kicked through, Bouthier had no option but to concede a five-metre lineout.
Wales seized on the opportunity, with Lewis bursting over for his first Test try. Biggar’s conversion made it 17-16 with half an hour remaining.
France had been under pressure for long periods but three minutes later, Ntamack picked off a Tompkins pass and sprinted the length. He converted and France led 24-16.
Ten minutes later he added three more, Lewis the culprit as he slowed the ball down at a ruck.
But Wales were not done yet. They got back into French territory, and turned the screw in the scrum, with Mohamed Haouas sin-binned after conceding three successive penalties.
Wales were ready to pounce, but replacement Demba Bamba came on, France shoved Wales back and got the penalty that allowed them to breathe.
There was still time, and when Biggar got over with five minutes left, Wales were back to within four.
They pressed and looked like they might pull off a great escape, until Chat’s intervention.
Ten years ago, when France last won in Cardiff, François Trinh-Duc picked a ball off on the right and sprinted home in a 26-20 victory. A decade later it was another fly-half, Ntamack, who did the same and sprinted away and it proved the difference. That season, France won the Grand Slam for the last time. They still have a lot to do to repeat the trick, but are now three from three in the 2020 Championship.
Romain Ntamack was rightly named Guinness Six Nations Player of the Match. And it was more than just the intercept try. His up-and-under helped set up the first try, while he kicked five from five from the kicking tee. France have lots of promising young fly-halves but Ntamack is the one who has been given the opportunity, and in his first game at an intimidating venue like Principality Stadium, he looked completely at home.