His dad Emile ruined my first cap 20 years ago and now Romain Ntamack has put a dampener on my 43rd birthday celebrations this week. Just when you think the nightmares are over, the French uncover another star in the making – from the same family!
You have to take your hat off to the French for coming to Cardiff – where they hadn’t won for a decade – and taking the game to Wales. They made 106 tackles alone in the first half and when they held their line, a man down in those last few minutes before the break, they probably won the game.
French defence coach Shaun Edwards admitted as much after the match and he and his team must have been bouncing when they went into the dressing room at half-time. If everyone claimed they could see the Edwards imprint on the French performance in Paris when they beat England, it was all over their game plan at Principality Stadium. He came back to his old stamping ground and broke the hearts of the team he used to coach and the nation that once adored him.
The way in which the French midfield sprinted out of the blocks was magnificent and gave Wales nowhere to go in attack. Their line speed forced Wales into making errors and conceding turn-overs. It was another masterclass from Edwards.
The stats tell it all. France conjured up two opportunist tries to go with their front of the line peel to sucker punch Wales into submission. Wales had 74 per cent of the territory in the first half, and 70 per cent possession, yet still went into the dressing room behind on the scoreboard.
It was one of those days when missed chances, and some dubious refereeing decisions, cost Wales dear. The pressure exerted by Wales saw the French concede two yellow cards and 13 penalties yet still they couldn’t get the referee on their side. How does that work?
If you look at the slow motion picture of the vital scrum just after Demba Bamba came on, it is plain for all to see that he turns in and drives straight across the Welsh front row.
It was a calculated gamble by him and he got away with it.
That should have been a penalty to Wales, not to France. Wales should have also had a penalty try for the deliberate knock down by Paul Willemse on Ken Owens’ attempted pass to Josh Adams.
That would have been try No 15 on a plate for Josh but for the deliberate interference. It’s not good enough and came at a crucial moment.
That’s the moaning over. The real reason Wales didn’t win was because they didn’t convert their chances. That is something that has to be rectified before we go to Twickenham to take on England. You can’t afford to miss out on anything up there and England will try to hound Wales in the same way France did. There is still plenty to play for in this Championship and the key thing for everyone, players, coaches and especially fans, is to be patient. The third Grand Slam of the Warren Gatland era is long gone and we have to look to the future. In both defeats to the Irish and the French, there were moments where Wales failed to make the most of their chances. At least those opportunities are still being created against the best teams around.
You learn from every kick in the teeth and I’m sure players like Dillon Lewis, Nick Tompkins, Tomos Williams, and now Will Rowlands and Ryan Elias, will learn from every minute they spend on the international pitch. Every cap is an investment in their growth and their future.
There are always fine margins involved in international sport and this game was no exception. What if the ball hadn’t bounced off the hands of Leigh Halfpenny in the air, sucked in two more Welsh defenders, and landed in the hands of Anthony Bouthier?
What if Tompkins had found Justin Tipuric outside him instead of giving Romain Ntamack a free run to the line for an intercept try which proved to be the game’s crucial moment? That was a 14-point turnaround.
And what if the referee had seen the two crucial incidents – the slap down and that scrum penalty – differently? There isn’t an awful lot wrong with what Wales are doing, they just need to sharpen up on their execution. More importantly, they have to believe and invest in the new game plan and keep backing their coaches. That seems to be what the French are doing and their youngsters, double world junior champions of course, are really stepping up to the mark. Man of the match Ntamack said his team mates were playing with a smile on their face and you could see that. They are turning into smiling assassins with the Shaun Edwards bite in their game and I would not be surprised to see them go on to win a Grand Slam now, even though they have a difficult game with Ireland.
For Wales, it’s a case of continuing to learn and improve and I hope confidence isn’t knocked by this result. England will be tough and although there will be a clamour to look to the future and make a host of changes for the tournament’s fourth game, I can’t see that happening.
It would be irresponsible to do so.
Liam Williams might come back into consideration for the trip up the M4 and hopefully George North will be in contention for the game.
George went into the France tie under pressure and he started superbly by winning back possession from the kick-off before he suffered a nasty clash with Gael Fickou and was forced off with a head injury.
George will be monitored closely by the Wales medics and he will be treated with the utmost care.
If it is deemed a good idea for him to miss England, then I would endorse that. His long-term health is far more important than a game of rugby.
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