To conclude the last breathtaking coda of a match that had it all, it was the joyful cry of Brice Dulin to be heard last as the full-back plunged into joy. Heads fell as the Welsh defenders, weary from the fight and doomed to their fate, and dragged here and there in France’s last decisive move, desperately tried to pass; there was to be no final twist.
The strangest of the Six Nations and the strangest match. An upside down and controversial contest that ended in a messy conclusion mirrored a tournament of incidents and action, and it was France that stood at the last – Wales’ hopes of ‘a fifth Grand Slam of the Six Nations disappearing in the Parisian night.
Not that the game lacked drama. Dulin had previously played a starring role in what appeared to be the game’s pivotal moment. The full-back’s scoring appears to have reduced France’s deficit to five with a conversion coming 13 minutes before full time, but a check with TMO Wayne Barnes revealed Paul Willemse’s wandering hand close to Wyn Jones’ eye. After much deliberation, referee Luke Pearce was convinced it could only be red – try with chalk, Willemse sent off.
It was, incredibly, only the prelude to the last ten minutes of a remarkable drama. This meant that for a third time this Wales tournament would end up against 14, but it was France who would end with a power play as Taulupe Faletau and Liam Williams each saw yellow.
Spaces are therefore opening up for France. Charles Ollivon took advantage after his full-back colleague Gregory Alldritt was somehow stopped away from the throwing line from behind the French scrum, Romain Ntamack’s conversion took France to minus of three. And then Dulin’s last try, the seventh and last of the game, and a score of 32-30 which only partially tells the story.
As they did against England, France started quickly in another 10-minute opening to test the lungs. After Dulin lifted a penalty in the corner, Gregory Alldritt was dragged just off the Welsh line around the corner after a nifty alignment move. Paul Willemse’s giant frame was propelled a few inches; the digger Romain Taofifenua found the last foot for the score.
Yet a week ago, the sweet melody of France invited its opponents to dance. The width of Charles Ollivon’s hand was all that kept Gareth Davies from scoring in the three minutes after France’s opener, but the response came soon enough after the ram’s possible last barge to bring down the door provided in the unlikely form of Dan Biggar on the crash ball.
The real moment of magnificence of the first half, however, would come from the French. Dulin advanced with threat after a loose Welsh kick, flanked by Matthieu Jalibert and with Antoine Dupont crouching. Dulin’s delightful left-foot chip rebounded nicely for his half-shuttlecock, and the quick transfer to Dupont gave the effervescent scrum-half a comfortable gallop.
There was still time in the opening quarter for Wales to level off again as Josh Navidi squirmed to level things out again. It wasn’t more than they deserved: with France oddly passive in defense, the Welsh attack was invited to play flat and with tempo, with the incredible Biggar establishing a percussive rhythm with stray wingers and attackers arriving with intent.
A penalty each before half-time followed as play briefly settled into a more adagio tempo, but after the interval incident erupted again. Wales grabbed the momentum with a penalty and then extended their lead to ten, Josh Adams controversially decided that he managed to get the ball from Dylan Cretin’s hand onto the turf as the pair s ‘collapsed after Justin Tipuric’s exhaustion went through and Tomos Williams’ toe slipped.
Welsh Grand Slam hopes bolstered eight minutes later when Mohamed Haouas saw the game’s opening card, the possibly fortunate mainstay that Pearce couldn’t be sure a try would be scored as he cynically took down a Welsh maul with pumping pistons. Biggar added three, and the Welsh lead was again ten.
And then, the last quarter, and all the drama that has come, the game moving forward with relentless energy ranging from heist to heist like a heist movie. The Six Nations victory may still be Wales’, with France set to beat Scotland with a bonus point in the delayed outcome of this year’s competition and the Seal triumph. For now, however, Wayne Pivac’s team need to reflect on what could have been.