Magical France survive Wales ‘hell’ to maintain Grand Slam dream

Romain Ntamack scores a try for France during the Six Nations match against Wales. (AP pic)

CARDIFF: France coach Fabien Galthie hailed his youthful team for having survived the “hell” of Cardiff’s Principality Stadium to notch up a 27-23 victory over Wales and keep their Six Nations Grand Slam dream alive.

France raced out to a 17-9 halftime lead at the closed-roof stadium thanks to tries from Anthony Bouthier and Paul Willemse, Romain Ntamack pulling the strings at fly-half.

Wales fired back in the second period with a Dillon Lewis try, but a doughty French defence held firm, an Ntamack intercept try sealing a first win for Les Bleus in the Welsh capital since 2010.

“The players produced a superb match. They played ‘THE’ game,” said Galthie, a former France scrum-half and captain who took over from Jacques Brunel following the 2019 World Cup where the French lost to Wales in the quarterfinals.

“We’re very happy to be able to share these moments, between ourselves but also with everyone who loves rugby, the people who support French rugby.

“To be here is hell, but it’s magic and that’s what we’re looking for.”

France skipper Charles Ollivon, who had a masterful game in the backrow after also shining in the opening wins over England (24-17) and Italy (35-22), hailed the spirit shown by the youthful French team.

The Wales XV boasted a Six Nations record of 859 caps, compared to France’s 234, but that counted for little in the Cardiff cauldron, according to Ollivon.

“That spirit won us the match today,” the Toulon forward said. “We have not invented anything, we did simple things with a lot of heart.

“It’s simply a bunch of mates who have won.”

Ollivon admitted that thoughts now turned to their next match, away against Scotland, with the Six Nations campaign rounding off at home against Ireland.

“Now what we dream of is winning at Murrayfield because that will come around very quickly,” he said.

“We’ll go step by step, but we want to go even further, I won’t lie about that.”

Pivac’s refereeing issues

Wales coach Wayne Pivac was left ruing a handful of missed opportunities in attack and what he said were some dubious calls by English referee Matthew Carley.

“We came out well in the second half, to score and get back to the one point, the momentum was with us,” he said in reference to Lewis’ converted try that made it 17-16.

“Obviously (there was a) three versus one and it’s a 14-point turnaround and that’s disappointing,” Pivac added, after watching his team botch a try-scoring opportunity.

Pivac, who took over from Warren Gatland after the World Cup, also had an issue with a deliberate knock-on he said had been committed by the French, which he argued should have been at least a penalty, if not a yellow card.

“The slap down, we’ve had a look at that and we think the officials may have got that one wrong,” the New Zealander said.

“The other disappointing one is when the fresh tighthead (Demba Bamba) came on and we’re on the line hammering away and he went straight across the scrum and was rewarded for that (with a penalty).

“The scrums from our point of view had gone OK up until that point. You’ve got to go in a forward motion and he clearly went across the scrum.”

Pivac, however, commended the French for having “played very well”.

“We have to take that loss on the chin. We’re certainly not going to panic.

“We created a lot of opportunities today. I think we’re heading in the right direction, it’s about taking those opportunities. We made seven or eight line breaks and if we convert one or two more we’re well in games and winning games.”