France turn to Springboks-esque power to save Fabien Galthie’s skin

Romain Taofifenua - France turn to Springboks-esque power to save Fabien Galthie's skin

‌Wales knew it was coming – but stopping it was an altogether different matter. In the end, France and their gang of giants romped to a convincing scoreboard victory, but the way in which the match played out belies the margin between the scores.

On the hour mark, Wales led by four points and the likes of Dafydd Jenkins and Tommy Reffell, the princes of the Principality, had been at the heart of a Welsh forward effort designed to neutralise the French juggernauts at source. Nine minutes earlier, however, the turning point came. France changed four of their forwards. Two of those who departed – Uini Atonio and debutant Emmanuel Meafou – weigh 145kgs, and two of those who arrived, Georges-Henri Colombe and Romain Taofifénua, are of similar beefiness. Add in that Peato Mauvaka and Sébastien Taofifénua joined the cavalry, too, and Wales had no hope despite their efforts.

Emmanuel Meafou (R) - France turn to Springboks-esque power to save Fabien Galthie's skin
Emmanuel Meafou (right) was one of three France debutants to face Wales - Getty Images/Dan Mullan

From the 60th minute onwards, France scored 25 unanswered points, secured the try bonus point, and set up what realistically will be a showdown for second with England in Lyon next Saturday. Wales had held out admirably for an hour but it was telling that two of those late three tries came from the hands of Colombe, with the tighthead powering over from close range, and Taofifénua, who charged down Gareth Davies’ lethargic box-kick to finish sweetly in the corner. Despite Wales’ conviction and their willingness to both move the ball and stand up to the brawn – Wales made more line-breaks, particularly through the midfield, than France – it was a simple case of brains: when the weight and power disparity is so stark in the tight, something must give.

This seemed like a stop-gap for under-pressure France head coach Fabien Galthié, a win-at-all-costs selection where French flair – barring one of the silkiest reverse passes from Nolann Le Garrec – was dispensed for a pack of Gallic bears. The Welsh dam bursting felt inevitable from the first scrum, where the hosts’ front row crumpled. Galthié‘s squad selection had the air of a get-out-of-jail-free card, but when you possess a battalion of Sherman Tanks, the walls of the prison will eventually come down – card or not.

It was all quite Springboks-esque, with shades of South Africa’s victory over England in last year’s World Cup semi-final. France were direct, utilising route one as often as we have seen from them for some time. Meafou, Atonio and Cyril Baille were all sent trucking up in an early statement of intent. Ramos, who kicked 22 points in the win, was happy to sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride, feeding his beasts in midfield. Both France’s first-half tries, scored by Gaël Fickou and Le Garrec, came on the rare occasion that Wales were unable to stop Les Bleus at source. Out wide, once France generated forward momentum, their runners were lethal but it did not happen often enough, Maxime Lucu’s late score a rare foray into quick ball movement for France who enjoyed deploying their breezeblocks in the centre of the pitch.

England, benefiting from an extra day of rest, will have taken note of this. Steve Borthwick’s side must prepare for a similar challenge to the one they faced against South Africa in Paris last October. The scrum must be watertight, the ever-improving blitz defence must stifle France, and they must be prepared for a second-half salvo – just as they received at the World Cup when a winnable match slipped through their grasp.

Holding Les Bleus for 60 minutes is not enough, something which Wales found out to their peril. After events in Cardiff on Sunday, England know what is coming – but stopping it will be an altogether different matter.

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