It is a Slam dunk for Wales
It is a Slam dunk for WalesSHARE
Wales won their 11 Grand Slam, when the Dragons recorded a deserved 16-9 win over a game French outfit at the Millennium Stadium, in Cardiff, on Saturday.
It was the first time since 2008 that the Welsh had claimed a clean sweep, and puts them just one behind the 12 Slams won by England in the Northern Hemisphere championship.
The Six Nations is the successor to the Five Nations Championship (1910–1931 and 1947–1999) and the Home Nations Championship (1883–1909 and 1932–1939 – which was the first international Rugby Union tournament.
Wales scored the only try, an Alex Cuthbert beauty, in the 21st minute.
However, they deserved the win simply because they were the more composed team on a day of high emotion.
Wales dominated the set pieces and seemed to have more energy (aided by some puzzling refereeing decisions) at the breakdown – even when they were flopping around like fish on dry ground.
But playing the referee has become such an important part of the modern game and that the Welsh did superbly in the first half. The French, either by design or by luck, started employing similar tactics after the break and an early string of second-half penalties seemed to have swung momentum the way of the visitors.
And some of that momentum seemed to have found its way into the set-piece play – with the French even managing a turnover at a line-out.
However, as was the case in the first half, the French again found themselves on the wrong end of some decisions that broke any momentum they had managed to build up.
That said, the French were often also the designers of their own downfall.
The early exchanges were marked by frenetic action on both sides, a clear indication that both sides were in the right mental frame of mind. While the adrenaline-fuelled action was not error free, it got the crowd into the game early on.
Ten minutes into the match and with the French on attack, the Welsh conceded yet another penalty – this time right in front of their posts – and Dimitri Yachvili opened the scoring.
Five minutes later, with the French a touch over-enthusiastic on defence, Leigh Halfpenny had a chance to open the Welsh account. However, his attempt bounced off the upright and the French could clear their lines.
As the first quarter came to an end, the French – from a classic move at the front of a line-out – launched blistering raid on the Welsh territory. However, as they moved into the Wales 22, their exuberance got the better of them and in their haste they conceded a penalty at the breakdown – a golden chance wasted.
And then, as from nowhere, the Welsh turned the ball over in the French half – through great work at the breakdown from Dan Lydiate and Alun Wyn Jones – and quick hands then put big Alex Cuthbert into space. He easily weaved his way through and past the cover defence to score the first try. Halfpenny’s conversion made it 7-3.
The French, in their desperation to crack the Welsh defence, made some silly errors – mostly through some wild passing.
And just over the half-hour mark Craig Joubert blew the French for going off their feet – much in the same manner the Welsh had done at the breakdown all game – allowing Halfpenny to stretch the lead to 10-3.
The referee, Joubert, continued to confuse the French with his rulings and even after an explanation to captain Thierry Dusautoir about a particular penalty, the visitors appeared stupefied by the rulings. It allowed the home team to take that seven-point (10-3) lead into the break.
Early in the second half a brilliant chip-kick caught the Welsh napping and offside play allowed Lionel Beauxis to narrow the gap to just four point (6-10).
An attempted drop-goal a few minutes later was wide, but the French seemed to have found a way back into the contest.
However, another breakdown penalty, just inside the Welsh half, allowed Halfpenny to make it a seven-point game again in the 52nd minute.
This also meant the territorial game became all that more important and this aspect the Welsh seemed to be better equipped going into the final quartet. The home team also brought on the cavalry from the bench – Luke Charteris for Alun Wyn Jones, Ken Owens for Matthew Rees and Lloyd Williams for Mike Phillips.
With just over seven minutes left on the clock the French finally got a scrum call going their way and Yachvili added the three points to put France within one score of a win – 9-13.
However, as has been the case all game the French almost immediately conceded a penalty and Halfpenny gave his team that seven points breathing space.
And despite few frantic last minutes, the Welsh easily managed to pin the French back in their half to claim the Grand Slam.
Man of the match: French flyhalf Lionel Beauxis had one of his best games of the season, especially his tactical appreciation of match situations. French captain Thierry Dusautoir, as has been the case all season, was a masterclass on defence and with his hard work at the breakdown. For the Welsh midfielder Jamie Roberts was a monster on defence. However, our award goes to Wales wing Alex Cuthbert, not just for his powerful runs, but he so often popped up on the other wing to help keep momentum going. And he scored the game’s only try.
Moment of the match: This one goes to the Alex Cuthbert try in the 21st minute. It came from great work at the breakdown from Dan Lydiate and Alun Wyn Jones and a wonderful finish from Cuthbert, who sliced inside. It was brilliant stuff all round.
Villain of the match: Nobody. Just heroes on a wonderful day.
Pens: Halfpenny 3
Pens: Yachvili 2, Beauxis
Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 George North, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Michael Phillips, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (captain), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Ian Evans, 4 Alun-Wyn Jones, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Matthew Rees, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Paul James, 18 Luke Charteris, 19 Ryan Jones, 20 Lloyd Williams, 21 James Hook, 22 Scott Williams.
France: 15 Clément Poitrenaud, 14 Wesley Fofana, 13 Aurélien Rougerie, 12 Florian Fritz, 11 Alexis Palisson, 10 Lionel Beauxis, 9 Dimitri Yachvili, 8 Julien Bonnaire, 7 Imanol Harinordoquy, 6 Thierry Dusautoir (captain), 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Pascal Papé, 3 David Attoub, 2 William Servat, 1 Jean-Baptiste Poux.
Replacements: 16 Dimitri Szarzewski, 17 Vincent Debaty, 18 Julien Pierre, 19 Louis Picamoles, 20 Morgan Parra, 21 François Trinh-Duc, 22 Jean-Marcellin Buttin.
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Stuart Terheege (England)
TMO: Iain Ramage (Scotland)