Guinness Six Nations
France 32-30 Wales
Brice Dulin’s last-gasp try broke Wales hearts as France denied them a Grand Slam and kept their own title hopes alive with a 32-30 victory in an all-time great Guinness Six Nations match in Paris.
With the clock having ticked beyond 81 minutes, Wales led 30-27 and were seconds away from a Grand Slam, only for Dulin to go over in the corner and completely turn the tables.
That only begins to tell the story of the drama in the French capital as the hosts ended the game with 14 men following Paul Willemse’s red card but Wales finished with 13, following two late sin-binnings.
The result means France can win the title if they record a bonus-point victory, by a margin of 21 points, over Scotland next Friday.
Wales had headed to the Stade de France in search of history – looking to become the first team to win five Grand Slams in the Six Nations era and to complete a remarkable turnaround from the 2020 Championship, when they finished fifth.
Skipper Alun Wyn Jones was bidding to join an elite group of men to win four Championship Grand Slams in the modern era with Jason Leonard, Fabien Pelous and Olivier Magne the only other members.
And it looked like they would achieve all those goals when leading by ten points late on, only for Charles Ollivon to score on 76 minutes before Dulin’s intervention.
Romain Taofifenua and Antoine Dupont crossed for the hosts, with Dan Biggar and Josh Navidi responding for the visitors in a scintillating first half.
Wales then kicked on after the break as Josh Adams’ try and the boot of Biggar put them in control before the late drama set up a fascinating final game of the 2021 Championship in the form of France v Scotland on Friday evening.
Wayne Pivac’s men will watch that game with interest, knowing that they can still claim the 2021 Six Nations trophy even though the Grand Slam has now slipped from their grasp.
The first 20 minutes were Six Nations rugby at it’s very best as quick ball, hard running and frenetic defence made for enthralling viewing and the sides crossed for two tries apiece by the conclusion of the first quarter.
Firstly, Wales’s valiant early defensive stand was breached on six minutes as a couple of phases from a five-metre lineout ended with Taofifenua using his 6ft 6in, 20st frame to burrow over for the try.
At the other end, Ollivon’s brilliant covering defence stopped Gareth Davies grounding the ball over the line but the visitors persisted and Biggar ran a superb line on to crash ball on 11 minutes to barrel his way to the score.
Parity didn’t last long as a sumptuous France score put them 14-7 ahead when Dulin dinked over the top of the Welsh defence, the ball bounced up for Matthieu Jalibert and he fed Dupont to waltz over the whitewash.
But Wales again responded, racing through the phases deep in French territory before Navidi barged over to conclude a simply scintillating 20 minutes and leave the teams tied at 14-14.
Things settled down somewhat after that as Biggar kicked Wales ahead from the tee when France were pinged at the breakdown before Romain Ntamack – on in place of Jalibert who had to exit proceedings for a HIA – cancelled that out with a three-pointer of his own to ensure it was 17-17 at the break.
Wales started the second half on the front foot and after Taulupe Faletau gave them prime position with a break off the back of a scrum, Les Bleus committed a penalty and Biggar added another three points.
And on 49 minutes, there was a potential turning point. Justin Tipuric produced an impressive kick down the left flank, Adams hacked inside where Liam Williams slid to collect, popped it back up for Adams to power over, where two French defenders tried to stop him grounding the ball.
After a long consultation with TMO Wayne Barnes, checking for a knock-on and the grounding, referee Luke Pearce awarded the try and Biggar’s conversion extended the lead to ten.
If Wales could almost smell the Grand Slam by this point, Les Bleus weren’t going down without a fight and Ntamack’s 53rd-minute penalty brought the hosts back within one score.
Louis Rees-Zammit almost scored a spectacular try in the corner as he acrobatically dotted down before going into touch but was ruled to have grounded the ball against the base of the corner flag, meaning it was out of play.
However, play was brought back for a penalty in front of the posts, which Biggar slotted to restore the ten-point lead, while Mohamed Haouas was also sin-binned to reduce France to 14 men.
Again the hosts tried to hit back as Julien Marchand surged off the back of a lineout maul, only to be held up over the line, but Dulin powered over when the ball was spread wide to the left.
Yet the try was ruled out for foul play in the build-up as Willemse made contact with the eye of Wyn Jones at a ruck and was sent off.
With Haouas back in the fray, France were restored to 14 men and, remarkably, Wales found themselves reduced to 13 players as Faletau and then Williams were sin-binned in quick succession.
Despite their man advantage, Les Bleus were still trailing by ten points with seven minutes to play but narrowed that gap to three points on 76 minutes as Ollivon drove over the line and Ntamack converted.
With a grandstand finish guaranteed, France needed one more try to win the match, earn a bonus point and keep their title hopes alive heading into Friday’s contest with Scotland.
And they got it, as they worked their way into the 22 and eventually spread the ball wide to the left where Dulin had the space to run in for the score.