Six Nations 2014: Three talking points as Wales topple France
Six Nations 2014: Three talking points as Wales run out comfortable 27-6 winners against France
Centre of attention
George North’s transition to centre from the wing was definitely tactical necessity rather than calculated risk, but even as the latter it would have been a job well done. Described by Jamie Roberts as a ‘17 stone Shane Williams’, North’s strength, pace and ball-handling qualities were all on display in his first start for Wales in the midfield both in attack and defence. At 21, he surely has a long and illustrious career ahead of him if he avoids any major injuries, but where he plays much of that remains to be seen. He has played at centre for the Lions, Northampton Saints and now Wales – his stature is wasted on the wing and it should only be a matter of time before Wales convert him as a centre and look to bring through other youth products to take his place on the wing. The decision will be made more difficult when Jonathan Davies and Scott Williams are fit again, but it’s a nice headache for the coach to have even if James Hook would have something different to say about being a versatile back.
Travel-shy France return
Philippe Saint-Andre’s side arrived in Cardiff on the hunt for a Grand Slam after two home wins to open their campaign, but came up against a determined force after threats were made to Wales careers. Not only did the reigning champions bounce back, they did so with ease and still with plenty room for improvement. France, it is well known, do not travel well, but not only did they lose, it was their biggest loss to Wales in the Six Nations era. George North and Jamie Roberts led by example from centre, while Talupe Faletau and back-row colleague Dan Lydiate were superb in the tackle as was Luke Charteris, the trio accounting for 40 of Wales’ 116 tackles, but the home side missed 26 as they allowed France’s back three to attack, almost at will in the second half with four clean line breaks. Wales prevented France’s pack from getting the upper-hand; there were turnovers and penalties aplenty from both sides, and aided by Leigh Halfpenny’s laser-guided boot Wales built the scoreboard pressure that ultimately did for France, their captain Louis Picamoles was their top ball carrier (17) for 54 metres but put a halt to Les Bleus’ momentum by ending up in the bin for not rolling away in the tackle with his side already down to 14 men. France may have won their opening two matches, but a side that excels for 20 minutes out of 80 is never going to withstand the onslaught that Wales produced, and Ireland will bring the same intensity.
Still not forgiven
Man in the middle Alain Rolland remains unpopular in Wales for the right reasons after he red carded Sam Warburton early in the 2011 World Cup semi-final in Auckland with France the opposition. The Irish-French referee was wrong and will forever be wrong – it wasn’t just that Wales went on to lose 9-8, it was the injustice. Tonight his stock may have risen slightly in Wales. It’s not that he penalised the French much more than Wales – France conceded 11 to Wales’ 10. It’s not even that he binned two French players to just one from Wales, or disallowed what could have been a perfectly legitimate try had you blinked and missed a crucial knock-on. But for the most part he made the right calls when it mattered. Rolland may never be adored by the Welsh faithful before his retirement at the end of the season, but he did all right tonight and there was a sense that the crowd were willing to make him aware of that.