|2020 Guinness Six Nations: Wales v France|
|Wales (9) 23|
|Tries: Lewis, Biggar Cons: Biggar 2 Pens: Biggar 3|
|France (17) 27|
|Tries: Bouthier, Willemse, Ntamack Cons: Ntamack 3 Pens: Ntamack 2|
France remain on course for a first Grand Slam in 10 years after winning in Cardiff for the first time since 2010.
Fly-half Romain Ntamack’s 17-point haul included a try, while full-back Anthony Bouthier and second-row Paul Willemse also crossed.
Defending champions Wales responded with 18 points from Dan Biggar including a late try.
Prop Dillon Lewis also crossed for his first international try.
France overcame yellow cards for Gregory Alldritt and Mohamed Haouas and Wales were left to wonder about a possible penalty try in the second half that was not given.
The captivating contest was Wales’ second defeat in three matches under Wayne Pivac and hopes of defending their title appear to have disappeared.
It is Wales’ first home Six Nations defeat for three years and France’s second win in 10 games against these opponents.
The victory gave Shaun Edwards, who spent 12 years as Wales defence coach under Warren Gatland, a successful return to the Principality Stadium.
Pre-match controversy centred around Wales prop Wyn Jones accusing France of illegal tactics at the scrum and visiting coach Fabien Galthie suggesting that showed a lack of respect for the nation.
As a result, the first scrum was always going to provoke interest but the second minute set-piece went off without incident – although it laid the platform for France to concede a ruck offence and Biggar slotted over the penalty.
France responded within seven minutes when a normally reliable Leigh Halfpenny dropped a high Ntamack kick with Bouthier sprinting away to score. Ntamack converted.
Wales lost George North to a head injury assessment after 11 minutes following a heavy challenge by Fickou, with Johnny McNicholl permanently replacing him.
Ntamack continued to drive France forward and slotted over a penalty after Lewis was guilty of a ruck transgression.
Under Edwards’ influence, France ferociously counter-rucked to put Wales under constant pressure in possession but they also pushed the offside line with one infringement resulting in a Biggar penalty.
France appeared to have responded with a brilliant second try for Fickou following a clever Ntamack chip kick but the Bouthier pass to Vakatawa was deemed forward following television replays.
That decision only delayed matters as Willemse powered over from a driving line-out as he bumped off an attempted McNicholl tackle. Ntamack converted.
Wales responded with a third Biggar penalty and the visitors’ constant offending resulted in a warning from English referee Matt Carley. Number eight Alldritt paid the price with a yellow card just before half-time.
Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones opted to attempt to score a try rather than kick a fourth penalty – but the gamble backfired.
France held out to lead 17-9 at the interval as the home side botched their attacking opportunities and Wales wasted almost five minutes.
The visitors ran down the clock after half-time and Wales managed no points with the numerical advantage before Alldritt returned.
Pivac’s side scored almost immediately when equal numbers were restored as prop Lewis dived over for his first international try. Biggar converted to reduce the deficit to one point.
All the momentum appeared to be with Wales until the classy Ntamack intercepted a Tompkins pass to sprint away to score a converted try that mirrored his father Emile’s score against the same opposition 20 years ago.
An Ntamack penalty extended the deficit to 11 points before Willemse escaped giving away a penalty try after he knocked the ball forward. After watching television replays, Carley stuck with assistant referee Karl Dickson’s decision that it was just a knock-on as Ken Owens’ attempted try-scoring pass to Josh Adams was disrupted.
Adams was forced off the field with an ankle problem which forced a major backline reshuffle as fly-half Jarrod Evans came on in the centre and Tompkins switched to the wing.
Prop Mohamed Haouas was yellow-carded for persistent scrummaging offences before France cleared the danger.
Biggar dived over for a converted try following clever work from new cap Will Rowlands and Aaron Wainwright to reduce the deficit to four points with five minutes remaining to set up an enthralling finale.
A tremendous Tompkins break was snuffed out by a brilliant turnover by France replacement hooker Camille Chat to end Wales’ hopes.
There were angry scenes after the final whistle with tempers flaring between both sides before France could go on and celebrate.
Wales: Halfpenny, North, Tompkins, Parkes, Adams, Biggar, Davies; Wyn Jones, Owens, Lewis, Ball, AW Jones (captain), Moriarty, Tipuric, Faletau.
Replacements: Elias, Rob Evans, Brown, Rowlands, Wainwright, Williams, Jarrod Evans, McNicholl
France: Bouthier, Thomas, Vakatawa, Vincent, Fickou, Ntamack, Dupont; Baille, Marchand, Haouas, Le Roux, Willemse, Cros, Ollivon (captain), Alldritt
Replacements: Chat, Gros, Bamba, Taofifenua, Cretin, Serin, Jalibert, Ramos
Referee: Matthew Carley (England)
Touch judges: Wayne Barnes (England) & Karl Dickson (England)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)