Wales storm Stade de France with formidable comeback in Six Nations opener

France’s lead was only one, the momentum just regained. Gael Fickou takes the ball deep inside the Welsh half. Second-row Sebastien Vahaamahina throws a loopy, floaty miss-pass. George North sees it and sprints. He only halts to gather the ball, then continues. Up the field, past half-way, into the 22, over the try-line. Into the lead.

And with that, the game is gone.

North sprints the length of the field to score

For all their quality and dazzling razzmatazz, France lack the vital ingredient that sets apart the good and the great in international rugby – brains.

They flew into a resounding 16-0 lead in the first half, but came out after the break with characteristic insouciance to see their lead get slimmer and slimmer, until it was a deficit.

With the heaviest forwards in Six Nations history, France’s power was already wreaking havoc in the opening stages, as Wales fought to contend with the team of juggernauts opposite them. The pressure told, with Louis Picamoles taking advantage of a simple overlap to barrel over inside six minutes.

Wales looked to have ridden the initial French storm, but the torrential rain at the Stade de France could take no stopping. Fortune was more at play in France’s initial superiority in handling the conditions than skill. Where Wales’ offloads would hit the floor, France’s would fly into the grateful pouch of its intended recipient.

As France relinquished field-position for the first time, Liam Williams broke through the line with trademark guile. Williams offers a far greater attacking threat than his injured predecessor Leigh Halfpenny, but he was denied a try after the TMO adjudged that the ball had slipped out of his grasp during his slide to the line.

Williams goes within inches of scoring

Five minutes later, Williams could only watch as Yoann Huget compounded Wales’ misery. Damian Penaud broke the line, Arthur Iturria offloaded brilliantly with one hand, and Huget was free to score in the corner.

For all the talk of France’s powerful forwards, Wales were mastering their own first-half demise. As soon as they gained advantageous field position, they would relinquish it immediately.

France were not suffering from the same problems, and Camille Lopez was offering a masterclass in game management. As Wales opted to keep the ball alive with the clock almost dead at the end of the first-half, Lopez decided to take advantage, kicking a drop-goal to extend France’s lead.

But with the half-time interval came a change in momentum.

Anscombe’s kicking was more precise, the forwards were marching round the field with greater intensity, and Josh Adams showed fine pace to scream through and set up Tomos Williams to score. An Anscombe conversion later, and Wales were back in the game.

Wales didn’t only hold the upper-hand in intensity – luck was now shining on them. After a poor Hadleigh Parkes kick with penalty advantage, the Welsh forwards retreated back to the mark.

George North didn’t. He chased after the ball, even when Yoann Huget had gathered it, and the Welsh winger was there to pounce when his opposite number dropped it.

And with that, France’s hard-fought lead was limited to only two.

Dan Biggar, whose control was a vital asset off the bench in the Autumn series, entered the fray and kicked Wales into the lead only minutes later.

France would come back through a Lopez penalty, and it looked as if they had overcome a spirited Welsh comeback. But they hadn’t, as Vahaamahina’s pass and North’s sprint would put Wales back into the lead.

If any team can go from their own half to score a match-winning try, it’s France, and it looked as if they may do just that as Wales relinquished possession with seconds remaining.

But Wales had one last surge of energy to repel the French surge and complete a famous comeback.

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