PARIS – A George North try double helped Wales overcome a 16-point first-half deficit to seal a dramatic 24-19 victory over France in the 2019 Six Nations opener on Friday night and equal their longest winning sequence since 1999.
In an uncharacteristically error-ridden first half, Wales spilled the ball and conceded turnovers under pressure from a fantastic showing by the home loose trio, led by ubiquitous No 8 Louis Picamoles.
Despite racing to a 16-0 halftime lead, France were left to rue their woeful goal-kicking at the rain-hit Stade de France, Morgan Parra and Camille Lopez combining to miss 13 points with their respective boots.
France opened at a lick, and when Wenceslas Lauret secured a turnover in their own half, Yoann Huget charged up the field.
The wing was brought down, but after several phases was back in the thick of it, combining with Lopez to find Picamoles on the outside.
The ever-present Montpellier No 8 made no mistake, stepping inside Gareth Anscombe and crashing through Liam Williams’ tackle to cross for the try.
Recalled Parra missed the conversion and then a long-range penalty.
Anscombe then went dreadfully wide with a penalty of his own, a clear reminder of how much Wales miss metronomic Leigh Halfpenny, who was out with concussion.
Liam Williams then fluffed a try-scoring opportunity after good work from Josh Navidi, failing to draw and pass with one defender left, and then being forced into a knock-on under pressure from Picamoles.
Things went worse for Wales when the French backs linked with outstanding flank Arthur Iturria – who looked like he was going nowhere until he straightened and drew two defenders – simultaneously popping up a beautiful back-of-the-hand offload to Huget, who streaked in at the corner.
Parra again missed the tricky conversion, Anscombe incredibly following suit with his second penalty attempt minutes later.
As chants of “Allez, Les Bleus!” rang around the stadium, the French XV showed no signs of the malaise that saw them win only three of 11 Tests last season as they seemed to have the measure of their rattled rivals.
A clever chip-and-chase by Damian Penaud saw the wing snag Tomos Williams over the Wales line, Lopez going close from the resulting scrum before the Welsh conceded a penalty – the flyhalf taking over kicking duties from Clermont teammate Parra and putting the home side 13-0 up.
With three minutes of the half to play, Lopez put what seemed like a nail in the Welsh coffin with a drop goal.
It all changed as North then followed up on an innocuous Hadleigh Parkes grubber, which Huget seemed to have covered before looking on in disbelief as the ball squirted over the line and past him, and on a plate for the Wales wing to touch down.
Anscombe converted, his last act before being replaced by Dan Biggar, to pull Wales within two points.
No team had ever come back from more than 11 points down at halftime to win a Six Nations match, and Wales had never come back from more than 13 points to win any match.
France’s goal-kicking shocker continued as Lopez missed a penalty, before Biggar booted Wales into a one-point lead with one of his own.
Flank Justin Tipuric, increasingly to the fore towards the end of the game, did well to charge down a Lopez drop goal with 12 minutes to play as the rhythm of the match became increasingly disjointed with a raft of replacements.
When the Welsh scrum folded under pressure, Lopez this time made no mistake for France to regain the lead.
But French hearts were broken when North grabbed his double in the 73rd minute when he intercepted the ball as lock Sebastien Vahaamahina attempted to fire out an ambitious, floated pass.
Biggar, a supremely steadying force at flyhalf, hit the extras to seal an historic win for Wales.
France 19 – Tries: Louis Picamoles, Yoann Huget. Penalties: Camille Lopez (2). Drop Goal: Lopez (1).
Wales 24 – Tries: George North (2), Tomos Williams. Conversions: Gareth Anscombe (2), Dan Biggar (1). Penalty: Biggar (1).AFP