France 38 Wales 21
Seven months may have passed since Wales' last outing in the Six Nations but their wait for a victory continues, after losing their fourth Test in a row in this warm-up fixture against France in Paris.
Alun Wyn Jones' record-tying 148th Test cap did not go as planned, despite Wales starting brightly with a Leigh Halfpenny try in the first minute. But a score from Cyril Baille and a brace from Antoine Dupont, as France's attack began to fire, left Wales trailing 21-13 at the interval.
A dangerous ruck clear out on Jones by Bernard le Roux, the France lock, may well be examined by the citing commissioner after appearing to catch the Wales skipper with his forearm.
France captain Charles Ollivon and Wales prop Nicky Smith exchanged tries in the second half but three missed kicks off the boot of Dan Biggar meant that Wales were unable to close the gap on the scoreboard, a magnificent solo try from Teddy Thomas wrapping up the win for France, who face Ireland next weekend and can still win the Six Nations, tied for first place with England on 13 points.
"We weren't good enough in the air on the night, gave too much ball back to France in open play," Wales head coach Wayne Pivac noted. "Also we had three turnovers at critical times and I think 12 in total, that is an area which we need to go away and look at to make sure we hold onto more possession." Pivac also revealed that tighthead prop Samson Lee would go through the concussion protocols after coming off in the first half.
Pivac could hardly have asked for a better start, with Halfpenny crossing after 58 seconds. Justin Tipuric's pass was key, creating the overlap out wide before Dan Biggar put Halfpenny away. A penalty soon after from the Northampton Saints fly-half meant Wales had a handy 10-0 lead inside the first five minutes.
France however hit back well, Romain Ntamack and Dupont, the Toulouse half-back connection, conjuring an attack that saw Ntamack burst through into space, after Rhys Webb leapt out of the defensive line, before feeding Dupont. Josh Adams did well getting across to make a cover tackle, but France recycled and Baille, the French loosehead prop, powered over the line from close range.
Biggar added his second penalty not long after to extend Wales' lead but looked in some discomfort throughout the opening quarter, getting some treatment on the touchline and doing his best to stay on the field, even with bigger matches to come over the next few weeks against Scotland in the Six Nations followed by the Autumn Nations Cup.
While Wales' interior defence was initially solid, France cracked them open out wide with a sumptuous score, Ntamack finding Virimi Vakatawa who with an outrageous offload out the back of his hand freed Teddy Thomas down the touchline, with Dupont on hand to finish off a fine score. It summed up what this young France side are capable of at their best. Ntamack's touchline conversion gave the hosts the lead for the first time in the match after half an hour.
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Wales were then forced into an early change at tighthead after Samson Lee appeared to be knocked unconscious, leaving the field and replaced by Dillon Lewis.
By now Wales defence was really starting to creak. Gael Fickou sucked in defenders and then found Vakatawa, charging forward into Wales 22 before feeding Dupont on his inside for the scrum-half to score his second try within four minutes. "In my opinion [Dupont] is world class and he showed that again tonight," Pivac said. France as a result went in 21-13 ahead, with Wales, lacking territory after only 29 per cent in the first half, left with plenty of work to do.
They started well enough, Biggar knocking over his third penalty after Gregory Alldritt failed to roll away at the ruck. France swapped their full-backs at half-time, Thomas Ramos replacing Anthony Bouthier, and could have had a fourth try only for Alldritt to knock on steaming onto a short pass from Dupont with the line in his sights.
Wales infringed at the breakdown, not rolling away to give Ntamack the chance to add three points, which he did successfully as both Pivac and Fabien Galthie began to empty their benches. Sam Parry, the Ospreys hooker, came on for his first cap with 25 minutes to go.
Biggar missed two opportunities to bring Wales within five points, after Camille Chat infringed at the ruck and then Wales' produced an impressive scrum penalty on France's ball.
The long-awaited debut of Louis Rees-Zammit followed, with the exciting Gloucester wing, coming off 13 senior tries in his breakthrough season, replacing Halfpenny at full-back.
Dupont then shredded Wales open once again, a tapped ball back by Thomas off a high kick falling Dupont's way before he burst into space and fed his captain, Charles Ollivon, to score by the posts. It was another world-class performance from one of the game's leading players.
Wales hit back through a Nicky Smith try, with Biggar missing the conversion, before France made sure of the result with a bit of genius from Teddy Thomas, chipping the ball over Biggar's head and collecting to score in the corner.