George North seals thrilling Wales comeback after France throw it away

first_imgAnd so Wales claimed a 10th consecutive win with this, the biggest comeback in their history. “The big difference between the two,” said Warren Gatland, “is that we’ve become a side that have forgotten how to lose and France are a side still looking for confidence.”It was unbearable to watch, such had been France’s form in the first half. Wales were braced for a battering by one of the heaviest packs known to rugby, nearly 50kg heavier than their own. When the rain set in an hour or so before kick-off that expectation turned into an assumption. Sure enough, France confounded us all there too. French power up front was the least of Wales’s problems.Les Bleus had also picked a backline of more traditional elan and they were not afraid to use it. Threats came at Wales from every player, one to 15, and never once from anything so slow or predictable as a rumble up front. Louis Picamoles cut back after one fluent move to score the game’s first try after only five minutes. At the start of the second quarter France had their second.Damian Penaud cut Wales up down the right, the French midfield conveyed the ball sweetly left where Arthur Iturria, yet another threat, this one unexpected on the flank, released Yoann Huget for the corner and a 10-0 lead. This time two years ago, in the infamous 100-minute match, Wales had been kept in the match by the boot of Leigh Halfpenny. He was absent here, which was a mixed blessing. No reliable marksman but at least Liam Williams could showcase his talents. Madness – but is it not always between these two? Or, at the very least, when France play. Still there is no knowing who or where they are. Les Bleus tore Wales apart in the first half – as much as any side can be torn apart in rain like this. The visitors did not know where to turn, their quiet confidence before this tournament shredded, their composure shot.France went into the break with a 16-0 lead but it could have been more, Morgan Parra missing three kicks at goal. No international side should lose a lead like that at home – not even France. How they laugh in the face of received wisdom. Here they handed Wales the game in the most agonising manner, yielding three tries in the second half, each one softer than the previous, the third just after they had regained a lead they had somehow lost with nearly 20 minutes to play. Share via Email As ever he proved Wales’s most threatening player. After one slashing run he was denied only by Picamoles’s tackle. Then another run won Wales a penalty. Gareth Anscombe was given the tee in Halfpenny’s absence and missed that shot at goal and another in the first half, a failing that seemed to spread to the rest of his game. He and his half-back partner, Tomos Williams on his Six Nations debut, endured a torrid time in that first half. On the approach to the break Williams carried over and France won a penalty from the subsequent play, which Camille Lopez converted. On the stroke of half-time Lopez extended the lead with an audacious drop goal.But this is France. No one is ever quite safe against them, but neither are they ever quite beaten by them. Sure enough, nothing looked on as Wales swung the ball aimlessly back and forth five minutes into the second half, but Josh Adams suddenly waltzed clean through France’s fringe defence to find Williams on hand for the try. Redemption for the young scrum-half just before he was replaced. In between, though, Wales struck again and this time the gift from France was toe-curling. Facebook Share on Twitter Read more Yoann Huget loses the ball in a horrible position to hand George North his first try. Photograph: Christophe Ena/AP Twitter Since you’re here… Share on LinkedIn Scotland’s Greig Laidlaw views Italy opener as launch pad for success Wales rugby union team … we have a small favour to ask. More people, like you, are reading and supporting the Guardian’s independent, investigative journalism than ever before. And unlike many news organisations, we made the choice to keep our reporting open for all, regardless of where they live or what they can afford to pay. Whether we are up close or further away, the Guardian brings our readers a global perspective on the most critical issues of our lifetimes – from the escalating climate catastrophe to widespread inequality to the influence of big tech on our lives. We believe complex stories need context in order for us to truly understand them. 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They thought they were ahead just a few minutes after that. Ross Moriarty went over but he was called back for obstruction. Worse, a penalty that might have calmed French nerves was pushed wide by Lopez.Now it was France’s composure that was shot. And their lead followed. Dan Biggar does not tend to miss and his penalty had Wales ahead on the hour. It had come from a scrum, the very area we had expected France to dominate. Expectation – indeed, reason itself – had left the building. So at the next scrum, penalty, of course, to France and Lopez, with 10 minutes to go, put France back in the lead.Then the maddest moment of them all. Sébastien Vahaamahina, one of France’s biggest, decided to fling a 30-metre pass as if he were France’s deftest. North again pounced on it to gallop home. Wales got away with this one. France will be, well, mad. 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