Wayne Pivac said his players can be proud of their efforts as Wales came agonisingly close to clinching the Grand Slam in a thrilling Super Saturday finale against France.
The Guinness Six Nations leaders looked on course to complete a famous clean sweep as they went into the final five minutes with a 30-20 lead against title rivals Les Bleus.
But the 14-man hosts rallied late on after Wales were reduced to 13 by two yellow cards and tries from Charles Ollivon and Brice Dulin broke the visitors’ hearts to seal a 32-30 win.
And while Pivac rued his team’s discipline in the final ten minutes, he hailed his players for giving their all in what was one of the greatest games in Championship history.
“It’s quite a numb feeling. The boys have put in such a fantastic effort,” Pivac said.
“We came here to hopefully end the Championship with a Grand Slam, if not a Championship. But it wasn’t to be. It came down to the last play of the game.
“That was obviously very disappointing for the players and everybody concerned from our end. Obviously, it was a pretty exciting game for those watching, no doubt.
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“We were down players at that point, and we got down on the penalty count. I think it was 15-5 in the end. We were on a final warning and we lost two players.
“So it was very difficult to defend at that point, 13 on 14. But the guys have done tremendously well to hold out the French attacks at the goal line.
“There were several in that last few minutes but, obviously, there were just one too many. Certainly, our discipline in the last 10 minutes didn’t help us at all.”
The two sides were locked at 17-17 at the break following an end-to-end first half, with Romain Taofifénua and Antoine Dupont’s tries matched by Dan Biggar and Josh Navidi scores.
Josh Adams’ try following the restart and eight more points from Biggar’s boot saw Wales establish a 30-20 lead before Paul Willemse was shown red with less than 15 minutes to play.
But yellow cards for Taulupe Faletau and Liam Williams saw Wales reduced to 13 men before Ollivon and Dulin made the visitors pay with two late tries to win the enthralling contest.
And for Pivac the decisive moment in the game was on 58 minutes when Mohamed Haouas was shown a yellow card and Wales slotted three points after not being awarded a penalty try.
“The game went pretty much to plan in the first half – the French tend to score a lot of points in that last 10 to 15 minutes [of the half] during the course of the competition,” said Pivac.
“We’d leaked a few at that point in previous games so we wanted to get to half time close and we did. For us to go ahead 27-20 with 20-odd minutes to go and then there was a major point for us.
“I thought we got a fantastic drive going and there was a yellow card. For me, I was expecting a bit more than a yellow card, I thought maybe a penalty try but it wasn’t given.
“It was a bit frustrating because, at that point, it’s 34-20 and I think it’s probably the Championship and possibly Grand Slam. We’d have been very difficult to beat at 34-20.
“The lift that gives you, the French would have had to score three times. Even if they’d scored twice, a draw gives us the Championship. It wasn’t given, so we had to continue on.
“At the end of the day, the penalty count got up and we were on a final warning, so we knew what was going to happen at that point. It was just desperately frustrating.
“The players, obviously, got so close and yet so far. It’s a tough time for them. We have to be proud of the performance, proud of the effort they’ve put in throughout the Championship.
“Now we go away and wait six days to see the outcome of next week’s game.”
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While Wales picked up a losing bonus point, France can win the title if they record a bonus-point victory, by a margin of 21 points or more, over Scotland in Paris next Friday.
“It’s very frustrating,” said Pivac, who was looking to emulate Warren Gatland’s 2019 Grand Slam success. “We were sitting there urging the team on in the last play of the game.
“To go from potentially a Grand Slam performance to sitting back and waiting six days is frustrating. But there is nothing we can do now except sit back and watch that game next week.”