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France survive late Welsh surge
France overcome nervy second-half to beat Wales 26-20 in Six Nations clash.
Last Modified: 27 Feb 2010 00:42 GMT
Lionel Nallet, left, vies with Wales' Leigh Halfpenny as  France push on to win their third game in a row [AFP]
 

France have moved closer to claiming the Six Nations championship after surviving a stirring Wales fightback to secure a 26-20 victory that made it three wins out of three.

Tries by Alexis Palisson and Francois Trinh-Duc, plus two Morgan Parra penalties gave France a commanding 20-0 half-time lead at the Millennium Stadium.

Wales pulled it back to 20-13, with 20 minutes left, thanks to the sharp kicking of Stephen Jones and a Leigh Halfpenny try, but two penalties by France's replacement flyhalf Frederic Michalak reopened the gap and meant Shane Williams' sparkling try came too late.

Marc Lievremont, France's coach, was able to celebrate three successive victories for the first time since taking over after the 2007 World Cup.

Two more, at home to Italy and England, will secure their first title since 2007 and first grand slam since 2006.

"I had the feeling that we'd lost sight of the match, maybe even before the end of the first half," Lievremont said.

"Things were very excitable in the changing room, everyone was talking and we lost all our coherence at every level."

Key interceptions

The game's momentum shifted when Palisson picked off a floated James Hook pass to run 60 metres and score under the posts.

With their scrum looking solid, France then enjoyed a spell on top and two penalties from Parra edged them further clear.

France held off a second-half Wales fightback at The Millennium Stadium in Cardiff [AFP]
 

Wales ran a desperate attack at the end of the half, but flyhalf Trinh-Duc anticipated Shane Williams' pass out of the tackle for another easy score.

After two Jones three-pointers, a terrific pass by Williams set Halfpenny free and he showed great pace to score in the corner and restore home hopes.

Jones converted well from the touchline and with Parra sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on the Welsh fans began to believe another sensational comeback could be on the cards.

Against Scotland two weeks ago they Welsh trailed by 10 points with five minutes remaining and somehow won the match and they had further chances on Friday to close the gap.

However, poor decisions and poor handling meant they failed to register a point while France were down to 14 men and Michalak stretched the lead back to 13 points.

'Cooked goose'

There was still time for Williams to mark his 33rd birthday with his 50th Welsh try, another superb jinking effort which Jones again converted.

Two weeks ago, Scotland inexplicably failed to kick the ball into touch with their final restart, enabling Wales to snatch their famous win, but France had no hesitation in doing so to ensure the victory.

For Warren Gatland, the Welsh team coach, it was an opportunity missed.

"We put France under some pressure and we had a chance to win it but gave away a couple of critical late penalties," he said.

"We tried to play a lot of rugby - France never really threatened our line all match, they got two intercepts and kicked four penalties but never really got in our 22 and put us under pressure.

"There was one team trying to play some rugby, but we have just got to stop pushing the self-destruct button.

"I think they will win the grand slam but that was a game for us to win today."

Lievremont said: "We played a great team. The score flattered us at half-time. The two penalties we scored in the second half won us the match, because otherwise our goose would have been cooked."

The tournament continues on Saturday when Italy take on Scotland in Rome (1330 GMT) and England play champions Ireland at Twickenham (1600).

Source:
Agencies
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