Dan Biggar booted 14 points to help steer Wales to a 19-10 victory over France in a Six Nations international on Friday and keep their championship title hopes alive.
Warren Gatland’s Wales team were held to a 16-all draw by the Irish before seeing off Scotland 27-23 in their opening two matches, but dominated a France side also coming into the Cardiff game undefeated after wins over Italy (23-21) and Ireland (10-9).
The win was Wales’ fifth in succession over France, for whom defeat was a fifth straight in Cardiff’s Principality Stadium.
Returning to the scene of their humiliation at the hands of New Zealand in the World Cup quarter-final, France looked toothless against a well-marshalled Wales team which crucially prevented Les Bleus from scoring in a sustained 12-minute period of second-half pressure.
Biggar kicked four penalties, two in each half, and converted George North’s second-half breakaway try.
France fly-half Jules Plisson kicked a penalty, with skipper Guilhem Guirado driven over for a consolation try converted by Francois Trinh-Duc to give the scoreline a more sympathetic glean.
“To be fair to the French they gave us a challenge. It was a scrappy game but a win’s a win,” Wales scrum-half and man-of-the-match Gareth Davies told BBC, with England next in line for the Welsh.
“It was scrappy, so we need to get a few things right at Twickenham.”
Guirado, who had an outstanding game, praised his team, saying: “We weren’t far away. And we scored at the end, it’s a sign of change, we gave nothing up.
“We can be proud of the spirit we showed, but it’s a shame we didn’t get into the game earlier on.”
Plisson’s shaky start was compounded when he booted a free-kick directly into touch, handing Wales an attacking line-out.
The French were penalised at a resulting ruck, but Biggar skewed the penalty.
Plisson then missed a penalty of his own after Rob Evans, everywhere in the loose, was penalised for collapsing a scrum.
France paid, however, after lock Paul Jedrasiak put in a late shoulder charge on Taulupe Faletau, Biggar finally getting the scoreboard ticking.
After a huge hit by Sam Warburton saw opposite number Antoine Burban taken from the field, Plisson was caught holding on to hand Biggar a second penalty effort he made no mistake with.
France came firing back, scrum-half Maxime Machenaud linking with Fiji-born winger Virimi Vakatawa before Liam Willams and Warburton came up with crucial tackles.
Dan Lydiate, however, was penalised for a no-arms tackle, Plisson scoring France’s first three points.
Maxime Medard’s boot prevented Wales’ first try after a moment of brilliance by Gareth Davies. The Welsh scrum-half broke clear of the cover and maybe should have passed with an overlap on.
As it was he put in a grubber to the corner, Vakatawa missing the bounce but Medard just getting a toe to the ball as Liam Williams pounced.
Biggar resumed hostilities with a third penalty early in the second period after Jonathan Danty upended Alex Cuthbert.
Wales finally made their pressure pay through North.
The Northampton winger had a stroke of luck after failing to tap on a ball expertly kicked through by Jonathan Davies, but Plisson inadvertently nudged it into North’s path for an easy pick-up to glide over for a welcome try converted by Biggar.
France then enjoyed their most sustained period of pressure, lasting 12 minutes, but came away with nothing.
Wales, led magnificently in defence by Warburton, foiled a series of attacking line-outs, held firm at the scrum and snuffed out a promising cross-kick that saw Medard go close.
Biggar kicked his fourth penalty to stretch the home side’s lead to 19-3 after replacement prop Vincent Pelo collapsed a scrum.
France had the last laugh as Guirado was driven over, Trinh-Duc converting.