Six Nations 2013: Talking points as Wales triumph in Paris
Six Nations 2013: James Thompson looks at the talking points as Wales end their eight-game losing streak
Wales finally win
After the bitter disappointment of last weekend’s loss to Ireland and coming into the game as underdogs, Wales pulled off a famous victory. However, rather than it being an inspired Welsh win, it had more to do with the fact that the French were truly awful. After their shock loss to Italy last week, many expected France to bounce back but they delivered a rather insipid performance instead. Wales, in contrast, stuck to the basics and their perseverance was awarded with a late George North score. Their much-maligned blitz defence stood firm and players such as Adam Jones, Ryan Jones and Leigh Halfpenny in particular were inspired. It meant that while the Welsh attack continued to breakdown, they were never in any real danger as the French never offered any attacking invention either. Interim head coach Rob Howley looked extremely relieved with the victory as Wales ended their eight-game losing streak, but they must not rest on their laurels in the following matches. There are still issues to sort out but after securing their first win in Paris since 2005, they have given themselves a platform to mount a defence of their Six Nations crown.
France stutter again
France came into the Six Nations as the pre-tournament favourites but two losses see them facing the wooden spoon rather than a Grand Slam. The French have always been mercurial, with a Jekyll and Hyde persona as their opponents would be unable to predict what sort of mood they would be in. They are blessed with talent throughout the squad but their bizarre selection policy means they rarely select players in their natural position. The selection of Frederic Michalak at fly-half over Francois Trinh-Duc, when Michalak is plying his trade at scrum-half domestically is baffling, while the expulsion of Wesley Fofana, their best centre, to the wing is pure mismanagement. Fofana’s removal at half time for Trinh-Duc was a surprise but he can’t produce his true from if he isn’t selected in his natural position. From an outsider looking in, it feels as if the French squad isn’t united and players are shoehorned in rather than creating a starting XV that compliments each other and brings out their true potential. They still have to travel to both Murrayfield and Twickenham and in this kind of form they run the very real danger of having their worst Six Nations campaign ever – but of course, if they do find their form then, they could have a major say on who wins this year’s tournament.
Biggar fails to impress
Wales fly-half Dan Biggar yet again failed to justify the faith placed in him by Howley. With full-back Halfpenny responsible for kicking duties, Biggar is tasked with the playmaker role and igniting a very exciting backline. However, his kicking was wayward while he was also poor in his distribution. Wales have sorely missed injured Rhys Priestland. While Biggar’s supporters will point to his chip kick that set up North’s winning try, it was the only thing that came off for the No10 – and at this level he must be more consistent. What is slightly more perplexing is the continued absence of Perpignan’s James Hook. Hook, whose versatility has counted against him throughout his career, has enjoyed a lengthy and productive stint at fly-half for his club and retains the ability to create something from nothing but it seems he isn’t trusted by the Welsh management. Wales possess a backline with the talent of Jamie Roberts, Halfpenny, North and Alex Cuthbert, but without the ball they are rendered spectators. The Welsh won the Six Nations last year in swashbuckling style, and they must solve their fly-half issues if they are to prove they really have regained their momentum.
The power of North
Wales’ match-winner George North reminded everyone of his world-class potential with a lethal finish at the death in Paris. At only 20 years old but standing at 6”4 and weighing over 17st, he has all the attributes to be a modern day Jonah Lomu but Wales must find ways of getting him involved more. He was given one real chance and took it with aplomb as he collected a chip through, blasted his way past the French defence and kept his feet in play as he touched down. It was a real poacher’s finish, and with both Halfpenny and Cuthbert scoring last week, Wales do have a genuine threat in their back three. Once they do give these three a platform in which to inflict damage, then they will rapidly see an upturn in fortunes on the pitch. They weren’t helped on Saturday evening as the Stade de France pitch was truly shocking, cutting up all over, and the fact that they did manage to score a well worked try was a testament to the attacking quality the Welsh possess. North took the plaudits this week and justifiably so as he served notice to his competitors that he intends to be a Lion this summer.