Leading 14-10 at half-time thanks to Liam Williams’ opportunistic try and three Leigh Halfpenny penalties, Wales produced a strong defensive effort in the second half to restrict the French to just three more points despite their dominance of possession.
Francois Trinh-Duc missed a simple penalty attempt in the 69th minute for what proved to be France’s last chance to squeeze in front at the Principality Stadium. The visitors also had the opportunity to finish second with a win in Wales, but instead ended up fourth.
There wasn’t a single point scored in the final half-hour of a match that had an electric start, with Trinh-Duc in the thick of the action.
The fly-half dropped a goal in the fourth minute to put France 3-0 ahead, then made the mistake seconds later that led to Wales’ only try.
France’s players didn’t touch the ball from the kick-off, thinking it would not reach the ten-metre line. It did and Alun Wyn Jones collected, Scott Williams kicked it forward and Trinh-Duc was deceived by the bounce.
Williams galloped through to flop on the loose ball. Halfpenny missed with the conversion but booted two penalties to put Wales 11-3 up.
France hit back through a try from Gael Ficko, who started the move with an offload on halfway and then was on the shoulder of Trinh-Duc to run through from 30 metres for a try near the posts.
Halfpenny and Maxime Machenaud exchanged penalties either side of half-time, before the French monopolised possession in the final half hour only to come up against a wall of red.
“Runners-up isn’t something we want,” Wyn Jones said. “The way our games went, we could’ve been going for a lot more but in this last game we’ve displayed the character we need going forward.”