Penaud double helps France beat Wales to keep Six Nations hopes alive
Damian Penaud scored two tries as France beat Wales 41-28 on Saturday to keep alive hopes of defending their Six Nations title.
Les Bleus now lead the table by a point over Ireland, who need just a point from England's trip to Dublin to claim a fourth Grand Slam but have an inferior points difference to Andy Farrell's side.
France head coach Fabien Galthie made two changes from last weekend's record win over England as prop Uini Atonio won his 50th cap.
Wales No. 8 Taulupe Faletau reached the Test century mark hours after the Welsh Rugby Union announced their professional sides could finally offer new contracts to players after months of discussion.
Galthie's side were playing their final competitive match before hosting New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup’s opener on September 8, at the same venue, but Wales started the better.
A first rendition of the Welsh song Hymns and Arias was heard around the Stade de France as the away pack neared to the home line after six minutes.
Centre George North, one of four Test centurions in Wales' side, then opened the scoring for the visitors after a sublime Rhys Webb pass.
Fly-half Dan Biggar added the conversion and Wales led 7-0 with the hosts having barely touched the ball.
The home side’s response was almost immediate as winger Penaud crossed following a Romain Ntamack break and an equally marvellous pass from Webb’s counterpart Antoine Dupont.
Full-back Thomas Ramos then slotted two penalties as Les Bleus led 13-7 after half an hour.
With a six-point lead, France’s tails were up even and centre Jonathan Danty dived over in the corner, and with Ramos’ additional points off the posts they suddenly had a 20-7 advantage.
Danty’s try sparked the home crowd into a turn of La Marseillaise with France halfway to a potentially crucial bonus point in the hunt for the title, at the break.
- Atonio celebrates -
The victory was secured 10 minutes after the break as Atonio claimed his maiden Test try before centre Gael Fickou galloped over and with Ramos’ two conversions the home side led 34-7.
France’s aim now was to build a healthy points difference advantage over Ireland in the table.
But that faltered as, with 25 minutes left, Wales hooker Bradley Roberts, who came on from skipper Ken Owens with Justin Tipuric taking over the captaincy, smashing over.
Biggar kicked the conversion to make it 34-14 with grey rain clouds slowly coming over the Parisian sky.
The objective took another hit with 13 minutes to go as replacement scrum-half Tomos Williams sniped over, Biggar converting.
With three minutes left Penaud claimed his second try and Ramos kicked a fifth conversion before Rio Dyer scored a consolation try with the clock in the red.
Galthie’s side now face an anxious wait with their inferior points difference to Ireland, watching events at Lansdowne Road from their post-match dinner in Paris.