WALES ARE SIX NATIONS 2012 CHAMPIONS!
The French “turned up” and made life as difficult as possible, but Wales dug deep to avenge the defeat they suffered at the hands of France in the World Cup semi-final back in October.
The opening exchanges, unsurprisingly, were tense, and Wales initially struggled with Craig Jouberts’ interpretation of the contact area, which didn’t amuse the home crowd.
A simple penalty from Dimitri Yachvili, after Gethin Jenkins transgressed, saw France take an early lead but, after Rhys Priestland hit the post with a penalty – first-choice kicker Leigh Halfpenny was receiving treatment for a knock – Wales struck sensationally in the 22nd minute with quick turnover ball, after Man of the Match Dan Lydiate clattered Thierry Dusautoir with a huge tackle.
Quick hands down the blindside and the powerful Alex Cuthbert cut inside off his right wing to wrong foot three French defenders for a brilliant score, Halfpenny adding the extras.
Wales v France: as it happened
17 Mar 2012
Wales were breathing much easier now and outstanding work from Jonathan Davies led to their next score, a Halfpenny penalty after the Scarlets centre harried Lionel Beauxis into a turnover. Davies hacked on and forced Imanol Harinordoquy to conceded a penalty as the France No 8 went off his feet trying to slow Wales down at the ruck.
Territorially it was all Wales and, although the French tackling remained sound, they were under tremendous pressure as half-time approached. A charge down by giant lock Ian Evans set up another high-pressure ruck at which France offended, but this time it was Halfpenny who hit the woodwork before France could clear. Half-time and 10-3 to Wales, who seemed more in control than the scoreline suggested.
On they ran for the second-half and a worry for Wales, skipper Sam Warburton had damaged a shoulder and failed to reappear, with Ryan Jones, a veteran of two previous Welsh Grand Slams, slotting into the rejigged backrow.
For France, Clermont’s Jean-Marcellin Buttin, who had come on for Clement Poitrenaud, immediately announced himself with a dangerous run and chip which had Wales scampering in defence and conceding another penalty, Beauxis making no mistake from 25m.
France were beginning to fire and Wesley Fofana looked dangerous with one sinuous run, but yet another massive contribution from Lydiate, a superb tap tackle on the France wing, ultimately resulted in a pressure-relieving penalty, as France again offended at the ruck, and this time Halpenny found the target from halfway with a magnificent kick.
Still France pressed and the impressive Buttin went close from a quick tap penalty, but Wales were alert to the danger and defended well as the game went into the final breathless quarter.
Wales were out on their feet and poured the replacments on, but France kept coming and with eight minutes left Harinordoquy went close.
Yachvili pegged a penalty back but Wales replied immediately when Francois Trinh-Duc stupidly threw the ball away after running it into touch. Halfpenny, thankfully, helped himself to the three points and the singing started all over again.
Victory was theirs and a Grand Slam that could spark the most prolonged golden era in Welsh rugby history.