‘We’re going in the right direction’: Shaun Edwards has the French on track for Six Nations title after fiery victory over Wales
- Shaun Edwards has combined flair and focus as France’s defensive coach
- France were resilient in their 27-23 win over Wales at the Principality Stadium
- Wales will be left lamenting three major decisions which went against them
- But captain Alun Wyn Jones insists his team must find a way to win dirty
Shaun Edwards stood in the bowels of the Principality Stadium wearing the quiet contented look of a man who had just transformed a team that for years had an attitude problem seemingly beyond salvation.
Just as he did with Wales, Edwards has stirred something deeper in the French as their defence coach.
France were feisty, fiery, they flew up in defence, counter-rucked to their hearts’ content, and when the going got tough they got going.
Shaun Edwards has made France’s defence watertight during this Six Nations campaign
There was no collapse, no crumble. There were dicey times, to be expected against this Welsh team who never give up and had not lost at home in the Six Nations for three years, but in the end the numbers all fell for France.
After the win — France’s first here for 10 years — Edwards piled praise on his new men whose psyche he has so dramatically altered. ‘The attitude has been first class,’ said Wales’ former defence coach. ‘They’re really buying into how I want them to defend. And it’s not just that — it’s the style of play as well. French teams in the past maybe overplayed in their own half. It’s mixing that French flair with some structured rugby. There are still some strides to take but we’re going in the right direction.
‘Three from three. We’ve got a huge game to come (against Scotland) but tonight, with 13 days to prepare for it, the boys deserve a glass of wine or two — and the coaches!’
Edwards would have toasted Romain Ntamack, the 20-year-old fly-half whose 17 points and interception try won France the game — and the visitors’ luck too.
Edwards’ France have finally found the perfect balance of flair and structured rugby
Wales were livid. They felt three major decisions went against them. First the ‘slap-down’ — as Wayne Pivac called it — when Paul Willemse knocked on Ken Owens’ pass destined for Josh Adams and a try. The officials ruled Willemse’s action was not deliberate and the lock responded by saying: ‘Those type of calls are always 50-50. It could have gone either way. If I tried or not, it doesn’t matter.’
Second a penalty Ntamack kicked from 48 metres that looked as though it had been milked by Antoine Dupont. When it was played on the big screen referee Matthew Carley admitted he could not change his mind.
And third, most gruellingly, Demba Bamba’s crushing of Rob Evans in a late scrum when Wales looked to be turning the tide.
Alun Wyn Jones has called on his Wales team-mates to win ugly in the coming weeks
Whatever their gripes they lost a game that the Warren Gatland-coached Wales might have won. Dillon Lewis and Dan Biggar scored tries, and the fly-half kicked his goals, but it was not enough. Pivac’s new style is taking time to gel.
‘It can be very pretty but it’s not winning,’ said captain Alun Wyn Jones. ‘Test rugby is about winning and we need to do that pretty quickly.’
There will be worries too after George North was concussed and Adams hurt his ankle. With England in a fortnight Wales could be staring down the barrel. ‘A win over England isn’t going to define our championship — as a group of players we are better than that,’ said Taulupe Faletau.
It has all fallen flat for Wales as France start to hit the high notes, dancing to the tune of Edwards their great conductor.
WALES: Halfpenny 5; North 5 (McNicholl 11, 6), Tompkins 6, Parkes 6, Adams 6.5; Biggar 7, Davies 6 (Williams 56, 6); W Jones 6 (Evans 59 5), Owens 6, Lewis 7, Ball 6.5 (Rowlands 66, 6), A W Jones 6, Moriarty 6.5, Tipuric 6.5, Faletau 6 (Wainwright 65, 6).
FRANCE: Bouthier 7; Thomas 7 (Jalibert 66, 5), Vakatawa 7, Vincent 7, Fickou 7.5; Ntamack 9, Dupont 8; Baille 7 (Gros 41, 7), Marchand 7.5 (Chat 56, 7.5), Haouas 7, Le Roux 7.5 (Taofifenua 68, 6), Willemse 7.5, Cros 7 (Bamba 69, 7), Ollivon 7.5, Alldritt 8.
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