Six Nations: Wales remain contenders after crushing France in Cardiff
Last Updated: 22/02/14 7:16am
Wales responded to their crushing Six Nations defeat in Ireland two weeks ago by running out comfortable 27-6 winners against France in Cardiff.
Coach Warren Gatland had left his players in no doubt as to what was expected of them in the Friday night match, and they delivered spectacularly.
George North crossed as early as the fifth minute and although Leigh Halfpenny missed the conversion, he kicked five penalties to give his side a 20-6 lead at half-time.
France came out stronger after the interval but despite bossing possession they could make little headway against the physical Welsh pack, which was without late absentee Alun-Wyn Jones with a foot infection.
And the game was as good as won just after the hour mark when skipper Sam Warburton stretched for the line, the video referee eventually giving the green light.
Halfpenny opened the scoring through a 48-metre strike, before Wales attacked from deep via Halfpenny and wing Liam Williams before North capitalised on defensive hesitancy between France full-back Brice Dulin and scrum-half Jean-Marc Doussain to pounce for the touchdown.
Halfpenny missed the conversion attempt, but he quickly made amends by landing another long-range penalty and Wales could reflect on a dream start, leading 11-0 after just nine minutes.
France looked as though they had cut the deficit when wing Yoann Huget danced his way over Wales' line, but play was called back following a knock-on by Les Bleus skipper Pascal Pape as he tackled Wales fly-half Rhys Priestland, and the home side escaped.
It was a breathless opening, but France needed to establish a foothold in the game, and they opened their account through a Doussain penalty.
Doussain and Halfpenny then exchanged penalties, but after Doussain missed his next shot at goal, half-back partner Jules Plisson took and cut the gap with a penalty to 14-6.
Wales continued to look dangerous through the attacking midfield channels, with North prominent, while they were far more combative and productive at the critical breakdown area than they had been in Dublin almost a fortnight ago.
A fourth Halfpenny penalty soon restored Wales' 11-point advantage, and France coach Philippe Saint-Andre will have been left infuriated by his team's technical indiscipline as Halfpenny booted another three-pointer just before the break.
Saint-Andre replaced an ineffective Doussain with Maxime Machenaud for the second period, but France could still make little headway as Wales continued to boss the physical exchanges.
Referee Alain Rolland readily awarded penalties to both sides, especially on the back of some shambolic set-scrums, and Wales appeared in little danger until a trademark charge from French midfield powerhouse Mathieu Bastareaud almost breached their defence.
Rolland's patience at scrum-time then expired when one more collapse resulted in him sin-binning rival props Gethin Jenkins and Nicolas Mas, leaving both sides temporarily down to 14 men.
Wales had gone off the boil for much of the third quarter, yet they still held a commanding lead and were helped further by some glaring French handling errors.
A converted try from Warburton 17 minutes from time, after great work from Jamie Roberts, completed the scoring as the French were frustrated to the end.
Six Nations 2014: Wales v France
France coach Philippe Saint-Andre says he has "no regrets" about dropping first-choice No 8 Louis Picamoles.
Pictures from Wales' emphatic 27-6 victory against France on the third weekend of Six Nations action.
Wales coach Warren Gatland says his side are now "back in contention" for the Six Nations title after beating France.
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