Wales head coach Wayne Pivac spoke for a nation when he described himself as ‘numb’ as midnight approached in Paris on Saturday.
Hopes of winning a Grand Slam had just been crushed under the cruelest of circumstances, with Wales conceding a try to France in the final act of a match unlike any other in Six Nations history.
At 72 minutes, Wales led 30-20 and was on the cusp of a second Grand Slam in three seasons, a transformation for a side that had only won once in the competition. last year.
But those aspirations ignited in a chaotic finish.
First, their discipline abandoned them, Taulupe Faletau and Liam Williams receiving Wales’ first yellow cards from the Six Nations overall, reducing them to 13 men.
Then France surged, scoring first through captain Charles Ollivon, then in extra time, Brice Dulin landed to seal the most spectacular of French victories – and pierce Welsh dreams of a first Grand Slam achieved on foreign soil since 1971.
Wales players fell to the turf in exhausted desperation, the silence of an empty Stade de France interrupted by the festive howls of their jubilant opponents.
“It’s really a feeling of numbness,” Pivac said.
“The boys made a fantastic effort. We were running out of players at the time. We were pretty low on the number of penalties at that point, 15-5 I think it was.
“We were on one last warning and we lost two players so it was very difficult to defend at that point, 13 to 14.
“The guys had been very successful in holding the French attempts on the goal line, which were numerous in the last few minutes.
“But it was just one too many. “
This was the prevailing sentiment for Wales after an exciting encounter in which they faced one of the most powerful attacking teams in the world.
It also sounded like a fitting summary of the Wales Championship, which they had started with almost no expectations.
Pivac lost seven of their first 10 load tests last year, with Wales having suffered their worst Six Nations since 2007.
So it was a surprise when they beat Ireland in this year’s opener, and even more so when they beat Scotland a week later.
After a complete victory over England and a beating from Italy, performances improved and Wales suddenly found themselves playing a fifth Grand Slam in 16 years.
They took their game to another level again in Paris, playing with the kind of tempo and attacking mastery many hoped for when Wales named Pivac.
“It’s desperately frustrating and the players have become so close and yet so far,” added the New Zealander.
“It’s a difficult time for them, but we have to be proud of the performance, proud of the efforts we have made throughout the championship. ”
Pivac was remarkably calm considering the chaos he had just been a part of.
But having come so close, it was hard not to wonder what could have been.
“For us to move forward 27-20 with 20 minutes left, there was a major point for us,” said Pivac.
“We had a fantastic practice and there was a yellow card and I was expecting a little more than the yellow card, maybe a penalty try, but it was not given.
“It was frustrating because at 34-20 I think it’s probably the Championship and maybe the Grand Slam. “
In fact, luck has slipped away – but all is not lost.
When Wales wake up on Sunday morning with sore, emotionally exhausted bodies, they can at least take comfort in knowing they could still win the Six Nations Championship.
France’s celebrations were particularly crazy as this bonus points victory fueled their own hopes of winning the title.
The Blues must now beat Scotland in the last reorganized match of the tournament on Friday, with a bonus point and a point difference of at least 21 to be crowned champions.
“I hope not,” Pivac said with a laugh when asked about France’s chances of propelling Wales to the title.
“Listen, this is difficult. It’s a very good French team as you saw today.
“When we got to a position in the game where we should have kicked, they just kept coming and going. They have a lot of great men and they come hard on the ball.
“Especially at home they are good and it will be a tough demand for Scotland to come here and win the game.
“But we’re going to look forward to it and we’ll just wait and see what happens. “