After the maddest of matches, the cruellest of finishes, the weirdest week yet starts for Wales today.
A Grand Slam nicked from under their noses at the last possible moment, when Brice Dulin slid in to score the winner with the clock at 81 minutes 32 seconds, the Welsh left Paris yesterday as bereft as France were beaming.
It took something special for France to deny the serial-slamming Welsh a fifth clean sweep in 16 years. But summing up the craziness of this year, Wales could still end up crowned as champions.
Wales were cruelly denied a Grand Slam after a late try saw them lose 32-30 against France
France full-back Brice Dulin (15) scored in the corner in overtime to snatch a last-gasp victory
The key moments that wrecked Wales’ Six Nations Grand Slam bid
59 MINUTES: Louis Rees-Zammit dives for the corner and looks to have scored, but on review the tip of the ball touches a lick of touchline paint so his spectacular effort is ruled out.
Mohamed Haouas then brings down a maul to concede a penalty, which Dan Biggar kicks for 30-20. Wayne Pivac later says he thinks it should have been a penalty try.
68 MINUTES: Paul Willemse is sent off after his hand made contact with prop Wyn Jones’ eye when clearing him out of a ruck. France are down to 13 men with Haouas still in the bin. Pivac substitutes Biggar, Ken Owens and Jonathan Davies.
72 MINUTES: Taulupe Faletau is yellow-carded after Wales’ persistent infringing. It is now 14 v 14 with Haouas back on the field.
74 MINUTES: Liam Williams is yellow-carded and Wales are down to 13.
77 MINUTES: Charles Ollivon scores and Romain Ntamack converts to take the score to 30-27.
79 MINUTES: Cory Hill is penalised for sealing off at a ruck, with barely 50 seconds left on the clock. France kick to the corner.
82 MINUTES: Brice Dulin scores on the left to win the game, after Ollivon, Ntamack, Gael Fickou and Arthur Vincent exploit the overlap.
If France do not beat Scotland by the requisite 21 points or more, and score four tries, then the trophy will be adorned with red ribbons next weekend; the most low-key of celebrations allowed to begin.
Alun Wyn Jones the captain could lift the trophy in the lobby of the Vale of Glamorgan Hotel with half the squad missing.
By next Saturday, when the French result is known, Dan Biggar, Louis Rees-Zammit, Taulupe Faletau, Tomas Francis and Callum Sheedy will all be playing for their English clubs, and the Dragons players may feature the next day against Edinburgh.
How apt, really, would that be? This mid-pandemic Championship, which produced one of the greatest games ever seen on Saturday night in Paris, ending in deafening silence. There was no picking up the Welsh boys after that defeat though. The ultimate gut-wrencher.
‘The boys are understandably devastated,’ said hooker Ken Owens the morning after the night before. It’s hugely frustrating. I suppose we have to settle for the second best now which is the Championship.
‘We had our opportunities and didn’t take them so now we just have to hope Scotland have a big performance against France on Friday night. Hopefully we can pick up some silverware.’
As his mind swirled at gone midnight in the bowels of the Stade de France, skipper Jones could not really believed Wales had lost. In the cold light of day their discipline crumbled.
Up 30-20, after an extraordinary hour in which Dan Biggar, Josh Navidi, Josh Adams, Romain Taofifenua and Antoine Dupont had taken tries, with two penalties each for Biggar and Romain Ntamack, Wales had it won.
They had never lost a Six Nations Grand Slam game before. But they had never played away, and never this French team blossoming gloriously.
The dominoes started to fall. Rees-Zammit was denied, rightly, an acrobatic try, a penalty try was not given when it might have been when Mohamed Haouas brought down a charging maul.
Biggar, Jonathan Davies and Owens were substituted by Wayne Pivac – in hindsight a bad call. Then Taulupe Faletau was sin-binned, Liam Williams followed him – now more than 400 caps-worth of experience off the field – and it was penalty after penalty against Wales around when Charles Ollivon scored.
Wales wing Louis Rees-Zammit had a try correctly but marginally disallowed (pictured above)
They conceded eight in a row. Cory Hill was the last culprit, sealing off a ruck with seconds left. And amid scrabbling Welshmen, France shot a bullet to their hearts. Jones fell to his haunches, staring into the abyss of the most savage defeat.
‘We’ll have to get the magnifying glass out,’ he managed to say after. There will probably be a handful of instances which will glare out at us when we do analyse that period of play. There’s no consolation in pride. We came here to win.’
What made it even more dramatic was that for the third time in five games a Welsh opponent was sent-off. Paul Willemse this time, his fingers plunging into Wyn Jones’ eye socket as he cleared the prop from a ruck.
Clear as anything for everyone but French coach Fabien Galthie, who had the temerity to claim Jones milked it.
Wales boss Wayne Pivac, however, could still see his side win the Six Nations title on Friday 26
‘The Welsh are specialists in red cards, and can specialise in opposition red cards. They play their part,’ he said – Owens dismissed that out of hand.
‘All I can really do is defend my team-mates and say one thing we don’t do is to actively try and get opposition players sent off,’ he replied, bemused. It’s a little bit ridiculous if I’m being completely honest.’
That they were part of a match for the ages was no consolation for the Welsh.
‘We had it all in our control and could have decided our own destiny, but didn’t do it,’ added Owens, proud at least of the turnaround from 2020 when they lost 10 of 13 Tests.
France lock Paul Willemse (No 5) was sent off after his hand made contact with Wyn Jones’ eye
Les Bleus boss Fabien Galthie controversially claimed after the match that Jones had milked it
‘We’ve really grown from last year’s Six Nations and the autumn. It’s definitely a massive stride forward looking forward to the future for Welsh rugby.
‘We’re happy with our performances and the turnaround in this Six Nations, but on the same hand we’re here to win rugby matches and Championships. That’s why we all play the game and we’re hugely disappointed.’
Captain Jones, who has officially seen everything in his record-breaking career now, is determined it will be the making of this team.
‘Sometimes those tapes aren’t the ones you chuck in the bin, they are the ones you keep in the memory bank and last a lot longer than the ones you win,’ he said.
There may be champagne to come for Wales, on Friday night or in the future, but for now their bubble has burst.
France v Wales: Match Facts
France: Dulin 8; Thomas 7 (Vincent 57 7.5), Vakatawa 7.5, Fickou 7.5, Penaud 7; Jalibert 6.5 (Ntamack 30 7.5), A Dupont 9 (Serin 74 5); Baille 8 (Gros 59 6.5), Marchand 7 (Chat 69 6), Haouas 6, Taofifenua 7 (Rebbahj 22 7), Willemse 4, Cretin 7 (Jelonch 51 7), Ollivon 9, Alldritt 7.5 (U Atonio 60 6).
Coach: Fabien Galthie 7.
Wales: L Williams 7.5; Rees-Zammit 7.5, North 7, J Davies 7 (Halaholo 68 5), Adams 7; Biggar 9 (C Sheedy 68 6), G Davies 7 (Williams 49 7); W Jones 7.5 (Smith 77), Owens 7.5 (E Dee 68 5), Francis 7 (Brown 68 5), Beard 6 (Hill 57 4), A W Jones 8, Navidi 8 (Botham 77 5), J Tipuric 8.5, T Faletau 7.5.
Coach: Wayne Pivac 5.
Referee: Luke Pearce (RFU) 8.5.