Rugby: France stays on course for Grand Slam
CARDIFF, March 7 (AFP) - Jean-Baptiste Elissalde inspired France to a 29-22 win against Wales at the Millennium Stadium here Sunday which kept alive his side's bid for a Six Nations Grand Slam.
The Toulouse scrum-half scored 24 of his side’s points, his tally made up of a try, two conversions and five penalties but had to limp off seven minutes from time having seen flanker Imanol Harinordoquy also score a try.
In Elissalde’s absence Wales scored a try with two minutes remaining through replacement flanker Martyn Williams to set up a grandstand finish after Stephen Jones converted.
But they could not manage another score to add to the five penalties fly-half Jones had already converted.
Elissalde, who has impressed since he replaced the talismanic skipper Fabien Galthie when he retired after the World Cup, revealed that he was a major doubt for the next match with Scotland because he thought he had torn a leg muscle.
“I am very happy for the team but I am in pain,” said Elissalde, whose father and grandfather also played for France.
“I think I ripped a muscle.
“This result is very good for the team and very good for the tournament and I hope I can play against England in Paris (March 27).
“We can do the Grand Slam but we still have two matches to go and even if we beat the Scots the English will be on to redress the damage done this weekend.”
Wales coach Steve Hansen said it was remarkable that the Welsh had stuck in there given the mauling they took in the scrum.
“I don’t think its a missed opportunity when your scrum doesn’t function nor the lineouts so credit to France,” said the 44-year-old former New Zealand police detective.
“Elsewhere we were very competitive and perhaps could have nicked it.
“In the end they were too big and too strong for us up front. Its a matter of this pack maturing.
“Hopefully with the good regional setups we have now there will be more coming through. I thought Michael Owen had an outstanding match,” added Hansen, who has just two more matches in charge before returning to New Zealand and taking up the post of assistant coach to his predecessor in the Wales hotseat and now All Blacks handler Graham Henry.
France’s early dominance was rewarded in the fifth minute when Elissalde landed a penalty from in front of the posts.
Thomas Lievremont, promoted to the back-row in place of dropped flanker Olivier Magne, looked to have set up a try when he intercepted in the 11th minute but Australian referee Stuart Dickinson penalised the No.8 for offside.Moments later Jones landed the first of four first-half penalties before Elissalde responded to make it 6-3 to France.
When France collapsed a scrum in the 18th minute inside their own 22, Jones made it 6-6 and with France infringing at the ruck he punished them twice more to give Wales a 12-6 lead.
Elissalde, with the boos ringing round the ground, then missed a chance to close the gap when he pulled a 35th minute penalty wide.
But on the stroke of half-time France took the lead with the game’s first try. Wales struggled to contain a powerful rolling maul and the ball was sent back to fly-half Frederic Michalak.
He broke down the blindside and fed the ball to Vincent Clerc. The right wing got the ball out of the tackle to send in Harinordoquy for a well-worked try.
Elissalde converted from the touchline and France had a 13-12 interval lead.And five minutes into the second half Elissalde eased his side further ahead with a penalty to make it 16-12.
France were starting to get the ball out to their pacy backs, causing the Welsh defence problems, and moments after converting his third penalty Elissalde landed his fourth from out on the right touchline.
Jones then missed an opportunity to reduce the 19-12 gap when a 40 metre penalty effort faded in front of the posts.
But he was back on form in the 54th minute when, after France were caught offside, he landed from inside the 22 to make it 19-15 to the visitors.
However, the greater strength of the French forwards told just short of the hour mark when they disrupted a Welsh scrum.
Blindside flanker Serge Betsen seized on the loose ball as it popped out and fed Elissalde who sprinted in from 30 metres for a try which he converted.At 26-15 France had breathing space.
Wales tried to force their way back by running kickable penalties inside the French 22 but from a scrum five metres out from the French line they saw the impressive Elissalde fly-hack the ball downfield after they lost control.
But Wales thought they were back in the game when Rhys Williams, cutting across from the right wing, touched down on the left in the 66th minute.
However, Dickinson disallowed the score for crossing earlier in the move, to the disgust of most of the capacity crowd.
Then, to make matters worse for Wales, Elissalde landed his fifth penalty. Williams touched down but it was too little too late as Wales suffered their second successive Six Nations defeat after losing to Ireland.
Subject: France news