WALES’ interim head coach Rob Howley described his side’s Six Nations victory over France in Paris yesterday as “a pretty special day” for his team.
The 16-6 triumph was Wales’ first at Stade de France since 2005 and biggest in the French capital for 38 years. A 73rd-minute try by winger George North, pictured right, sealed the deal for Wales, while full-back Leigh Halfpenny kicked three penalties and a conversion to end a run of eight successive defeats.
“It is a pretty special day for the Wales team,” Howley said. “We kept on saying we hadn’t become a bad team overnight. Fine margins are the difference in Test match rugby.
“The players showed character and our defence put France under a lot of pressure. The players deserve all the accolades.”
France failed to score a try against Wales for the third successive game – a barren run that includes the 2011 World Cup semi-final in New Zealand – as they were restricted to two Frederic Michalak penalties.
And an outstanding defensive performance was not lost on Howley or Wales defence specialist Shaun Edwards.
“It was a huge defensive effort, we defended particularly well,” Howley added. “We were effective in terms of putting pressure on the ball, and our defence was absolutely outstanding.”
Edwards said: “France seem to bring the best out of us in defence. We respect and fear their attack so much that it brings the best out of us.”
Wales now move on to an appointment with Italy in Rome later this month, but life is not about to get any easier for France, who face England at Twickenham and then Ireland in Dublin.
“The belief and confidence you can get from a result like this is so important, and we can take that with us to Italy now,” Howley said.
“The important thing is it that it hasn’t felt like we had lost seven or eight games on the bounce. The one thing these guys have continually done is worn that jersey with pride and given 100 per cent.”
Ryan Jones, who celebrated his 30th Test as Wales captain, said: “France is one of the most difficult places to come and win. It was by no means a flawless display, but we worked incredibly hard. We fronted-up and we were bold and brave. You have got to tackle a team like France head-on, and I thought we did that.”
The French team were booed off the pitch by a capacity crowd, and they now find themselves propping up the table after losses to Italy and Wales. The wooden spoon is a distinct possibility.
“It is a difficult time for us – we know we can’t win the Six Nations any more,” France coach Philippe Saint-Andre said.
“It was most frustrating. Our defence went better this week, but we had the opportunities to score and did not convert them, whereas Wales scored from their only opportunity. Wales were very aggressive in the rucks and tackles, and we lost the ball many times. When we won turnovers we were not able to use the ball properly.
“Wales were the better team. They were clinical – they had one chance and they took it. They never gave up after losing eight games in a row, and they got their reward.
“We are at the bottom of the Six Nations, but we must not give up and we need to play with more precision.
“We must not be scared. England at Twickenham is a fantastic challenge. You can fight for pride and show desire, and we need to do that in two weeks’ time.”
Les Bleus skipper Thierry Dusautoir added: “Losing at home is not good, but you cannot expect to win if you cannot convert your opportunities. If we can’t score when we have the ball, then there is always the risk of the other team scoring.”