Wales notched their third Six Nations grand slam in eight seasons on Saturday, defeating France 16-9 at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. Welsh winger Alex Cuthbert scored the sole try of the match.
AP - Wales won a third Grand Slam in eight seasons by beating France 16-9 at Millennium Stadium on Saturday, foreshadowing a new era of Six Nations dominance like the country’s all-conquering team of the 1970s.
Winger Alex Cuthbert scored a first-half solo try and fullback Leigh Halfpenny kicked 11 points as Wales demonstrated a blend of grit and expansive rugby against a limited French team that displayed resolute defense but only belatedly showed any ambition.
Wales also won the Grand Slam in 2005 and 2008, and this latest triumph in winning away in Ireland and England to complete the Triple Crown echoes the dominance of the Welsh team from 1969-79.
In that period, Wales won the old Five Nations seven times - including three Grand Slams - and shared the title twice more, losing only seven matches in 11 years and not a single one at home.
Flanker Dan Lydiate’s work at the breakdown and covering defense, Cuthbert’s tackle-busting surges on the flanks and in midfield and scrumhalf Mike Phillips’ composure were instrumental in Wales’ 11th Grand Slam - one short of England’s record mark.
Wales props Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones and substitute back-rower Ryan Jones are the only three Wales players to have played in all three of the most recent Grand Slam-winning teams. And the trio all played important roles on Saturday.
Jenkins and Adam Jones formed the foundation of a superior scrum and Ryan Jones, who captained the 2008 team, helped repel the resurgent French in the second half after having replaced captain Sam Warburton at the interval.
Wales also avenged its semifinal loss to France at the 2011 Rugby World Cup when Warburton was sent off for a dangerous tackle.
Halfpenny, who at the World Cup missed a penalty on fulltime from halfway which would have put his team into the final, landed a crucial kick from a similar position that gave Wales a 13-6 advantage in the 53rd minute on Saturday.
Wales started brightly in the greasy conditions with rain having fallen before kickoff. Flyhalf Rhys Priestland was prominent early in launching several midfield bombs, hoping to induce errors on the slippery surface from France fullback Clement Poitrenaud.
France, however, took a 3-0 lead in the 12th minute when Jenkins was penalized for playing the ball in a ruck, allowing Dimitri Yachvili to slot the ball through the posts from right in front and become France’s second-highest point-scorer.
Three minutes later, Yachvili failed to roll away from the tackled area but Priestland’s penalty attempt struck the post.
Wales had nothing to show for dominating 75 percent of territory in the opening quarter, with France’s defense proving to be impregnable and referee Craig Joubert often finding fault with the hosts at the breakdown.
Wales struck in the 21st, however, after lock Alun-Wyn Jones stole tackle ball from France captain Thierry Dusatoir. The ball was shifted to the blindside, and Cuthbert stepped inside Imanol Harinordoquy, weaved past two other defenders before standing up Poitrenaud to score a converted try.
France’s forwards then sealed off the ball under intense pressure, and the resulting penalty was nailed by Halfpenny in the 33rd for Wales to lead 10-3 at halftime.
Wales lost Warburton at halftime because of a shoulder injury, and France seemed invigorated after the break by the absence of the hosts’ main ball scavenger.
Flyhalf Lionel Beauxis, who had a poor match, and Halfpenny traded penalties as the tempo lifted with both teams throwing the ball around.
Harinordoquy blew a great chance in the 72nd when he cut inside just meters out from the line despite having unmarked substitute Louis Picamoles outside of him - only to be cut down by Jamie Roberts.
Yachvili and Halfpenny kicked penalties to keep the margin to seven points, with Priestland missing a long-range dropped goal to give Wales a buffer. But Joubert awarded the hosts a penalty as the 80-minute mark approached, sending Wales’ players into delirium.
Date created : 2012-03-17