A Grand day out for Wales
Cuthbert's first-half try gives Gatland a second title in four years
By Rob Lancaster. Last Updated: 17/03/12 5:54pm
Wales clinched their third RBS Six Nations Grand Slam in eight years with a nervy 16-9 victory over France at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
Alex Cuthbert's first-half try proved the difference between the two nations as Warren Gatland's side completed a clean sweep in this year's tournament.
The victory avenged their World Cup semi-final loss to the same opponents five months ago, while it also served as a fitting tribute to the legendary Mervyn Davies, the 1976 Slam skipper who passed away on Thursday.
It was perhaps only right that they should take it down to the wire, having left it late to win in Ireland on opening weekend before going on to sneak past England at Twickenham to secure the Triple Crown.
France did threaten to spoil the home side's party but could only muster a pair of penalties from Dimitri Yachvili and three points from Lionel Beauxis' right boot.
Sam Warburton - the man who had been left in tears after seeing red in the 9-8 defeat at Eden Park last October - was left with much different emotions as he held the trophy aloft, though a shoulder injury had forced him off at half-time.
Any concerns about Wales being overawed by the occasion, with not even a pre-match deluge managing to quell the expectant crowd, were soon dismissed when they made a fast-paced start to proceedings.
The opening quarter was almost exclusively played in France's half, though for all their efforts the home side were simply unable to find a way through.
France, in contrast, seemed more than happy to kick the ball away and defend, Beauxis showing the full extent of their aspirations in the opening seconds with a dreadful drop-goal attempt that barely got airborne.
Yet, despite barely posing a threat, France took the lead on their first real foray forward, Yachvili putting the visitors 3-0 up with an 11th-minute penalty.
Wales, however, did not panic. Choosing to play the territory game themselves, they saw a Rhys Priestland penalty come back off an upright before turnover ball led to the game's only try.
Dan Lydiate's tackle caught Thierry Dusautoir all alone and once Alun Wyn Jones had recycled it backwards, the ball was worked wide to Cuthbert. A left-foot step took the winger away from Imanol Harinordoquy and gave him a channel to the line, one he accelerated through to score untouched.
Halfpenny slotted over the conversion and also added three more points shortly after the half-hour mark, again Wales turning a turnover into points. And had the woodwork not denied them a second time, they would have held a comfortable 10-point cushion at the break.
The miss left Les Bleus within touch and nerves were jangling in the stands when Beauxis' 45th-minute penalty cut the deficit down to four points.
Halfpenny responded with a penalty of his own to give Wales some breathing space, though it must've felt like water-torture as the clock slowly ticked by.
The final 10 minutes saw France kick a penalty to increase the tension - only to then hand the three points straight back when sub Francois Trinh-Duc threw the ball away after being bundled into touch by three tacklers.
Halfpenny gleefully accepted the gift and although Priestland missed a drop goal attempt with two minutes to play that would have made absolutely sure, there was simply not enough time for a tepid France team to respond.
A penalty allowed Priestland to kick the ball dead, securing a second slam under Gatland's reign. It is a superb achievement by the no-nonsense Kiwi who will know there's still plenty more to come from his young group of players. The countdown to the 2015 World Cup is already on...