Warren Gatland staring at first Six Nations wooden spoon for 26 years as France blitz Wales

Wales head coach Warren Gatland ahead of the Guinness Six Nations match at the Principality Stadium, Cardiff. Picture date:
Wales are currently bottom of the Six Nations table - PA/Joe Giddens

What is Welsh for deja vu? For so long another brave effort from the red-clad youngsters, but ultimately another defeat and Warren Gatland is now looking squarely at Wales’ first wooden spoon in the Championship in 21 years and his first in 26 years, when the Six Nations were but Five and the Kiwi was only 34 years old.

Of course, 1998 was when Gatland was at the start of his remarkable coaching career in charge of Ireland and even if the transformation of the green isle is not lesson enough concerning the vicissitudes and opportunities of time, then this was an afternoon when the rapidly flipflopped fortunes of Wales – champions but three years ago – were all too painfully apparent.

And that much was obvious just an hour or so after Max Boyce had reprised his glorious 1970s act to send the home support into the match on such a positive wave of “Hymns and Arias” emotion.

Max Boyce sings Hymns and Arias before kick-off
Max Boyce sings Hymns and Arias before kick-off - Shutterstock/Dimitris Legakis

That mellifluous Max melody was still ringing with 19 minutes remaining and Wales were 24-20 ahead and confident of just their second Six Nations win in 12 matches. But after that – no Boyce pun intended – the leaks became alarming and the inability to handle the physical challenge so telling. They conceded 17 points in nine minutes and, rather brutally, 25 in the last quarter.

Not big enough, not experienced enough and, despite their inspiring passages of play that so almost saw them see off Scotland and England last month, not yet good enough. Their hearts are big and their ambition matches their intent, but in terms of bulk, power and dynamism they are woefully inferior when the hammer is down and no amount of exuberance can make up for those deficiencies in modern rugby.

The upshot is that Gatland’s Greenhorns must not only beat Italy here in the Welsh capital on Saturday but either deny Italy a bonus point or grab their own five-point haul. And on the evidence of this weekend, the Azzurri must be relishing the possibilities – probabilities, perhaps – of a second consecutive victory in Cardiff and ensuring that it is quite easily their best display in their quarter-of-a-century Championship sojourn.

“Next week is massive for us,” Gatland said, after presiding over his eighth defeat in his last nine Six Nations games. “But we’ve got to be excited by that. We’ve got to embrace that challenge and can’t hide from the stat [of Wales not ‘winning’ the wooden spoon in more than two decades]. You can’t go into your shell. There’s going to be a lot of pressure. We’ve got to front up. There were lots of parts of that game that were reasonably good.”

Gatland is not the type to duck from a fight and welcomed the Italian uprising. “I thought it was a good performance [in beating Scotland on Saturday]” he said. “Good for the tournament as well, having a lot of teams under pressure and creating jeopardy. “They’ve been good, staying in the fight, keeping the scoreboard ticking over. Physically, they look good at this level. It’s going to be massive for them, thinking they can finish in their best ever position. And yeah, it’s become pretty important for us.”

Gatland can – and will – ring back George North, who did not play in this fixture after being either dropped or rested, depending on your opinion on the controversial selection in midfield. In truth, the centre duo of Owen Watkin and Joe Roberts were not the problem and with a try apiece more than justified the Kiwi’s bold decision.

The burning, brutal issue was the devastation inflicted when the replacements came on and analysing the respective benches that should not have been a shock. Fabien Glathie could bring on 20st front-rowers with notches already on their creaking belts. But Gatland, with a commendable eye to the future, had to whistle for Evan Llloyd, a hooker called into the squad after the late withdrawal of Ryan Elias who has not yet even started a first-class match and who was a backrower just a few years ago.

Lloyd is a fine young prospect and merely an example of the small pool, but all those years of Wayne Pivac relying on the old hens and not blooding the chicks have now come home to roost. Wales must have patience, but with that humble wooden utensil looming over their heads like the sword of Damocles, the next week will be all about the present and certainly not the future.

Match details

Scoring sequence: 3-0 Costelow pen, 3-3 Ramos pen, 8-3 Dyer try, 10-3 Costelow con, 10-6 Ramos pen, 10-11 Fickou try, 10-13 Ramos con, 15-13 Williams try, 17-13 Costelow con, 17-18 Le Garrec try, 17-20 Ramos con, 22-20 Roberts try, 24-20 Costelow con, 24-23 Ramos pen, 24-28 Colombe try, 24-30 Ramos con, 24-35 R Taofifenua try, 24-37 Ramos con, 24-40 Ramos pen. H-T: 17-20

Wales: C Winnett; J Adams, J Roberts (Grady 61), O Watkin, R Dyer; S Costelow (I Lloyd 56), T Williams (Davies 56); G Thomas (Domachowski 70), E Dee (E Lloyd 70), K Assiratti (Lewis 44), W Rowlands (Martin 70), A Beard, D Jenkins (c), T Reffell (Mann 56), A Wainwright.

France: L Barré; D Penaud, G Fickou, N Depoortère (Moefana 70), L Bielle-Biarrey; T Ramos, N Le Garrec (Lucu 70); C Baille (S Taofifenua 51), J Marchand (Mauvaka 51), U Atonio (Colombe 51), T Flament, E Meafou (R Taofifenua 51), F Cros (Boudehent 70), C Ollivon (Roumat 62), G Alldritt (c).

Referee: L Pearce (RFU)

Attendance: 71,242

Wales v France: As it happened

05:23 PM GMT

Sam Warburton on the BBC

“The reality check for Wales is that they’re not physical enough.

“I’m going to sound like a broken record but you can’t play the game and be that inferior physically. If you can’t stop the big guys, it’s going to be a tough game.

“We don’t have the player pool to match the power of England, Ireland and France and we need to find the players from somewhere.”

05:21 PM GMT

Man of the match display from Le Garrec

05:20 PM GMT

The thoughts of Wales head coach Warren Gatland

“We were up 24-23 but we didn’t manage the game with turnovers and we’re disappointing with some soft points given away.

“We probably overplayed. When we were down by six points and you’re thinking just play territory make it easy for yourselves but we hurt ourselves and not played well enough in that last period.

“France put our scrum under pressure, that’s something we’ve been working hard on and we’re not there at the moment. I thought our lineout was excellent and our line speed could have been better.

“The plan was if we went multiple phases then we’d cause them lots of problems and we did. But we didn’t help ourselves with some of the mistakes for us.”

Wales head coach Warren Gatland walking around before Wales' match against France
Wales are bottom going into the final round - Rui Vieira/AP

05:10 PM GMT

The views of Wales captain Dafydd Jenkins

We felt like the French would fatigue later on with their big pack. It didn’t go to plan but we’ll look at it and come back next week. We were excited about the physical battle but we definitely came off second best.

“The boys give everything week in week out and I don’t think it was fatigue, everyone will play all day for their country but it’s just the accuracy. Next week is massive for us because we don’t want to finish bottom.

“Italy have won here before so we’re not going to take them for granted but we’ve got to reflect on this game and see how we can be better.”

Wales captain Dafydd Jenkins warming up
Wales fell to a fourth straight defeat in the 2024 Six Nations - Michael Steele/Getty Images

05:09 PM GMT

The thoughts of France captain Gregory Alldritt

We had a great performance today, we were really frustrated after Italy and wanted to make France proud again so it’s great to do that at this stadium.

“We have a massive massive pack, and we wanted to be tough on the collision.

“We have some really good young players and I’m really proud of them and that Nolan Le Garrec scored a try as well.”

France captain Gregory Alldritt celebrates France's win
France bounced back from the draw against Italy with a comfortable win against Wales - Dan Mullan/Getty Images

05:06 PM GMT

Sam Warburton on the BBC

“The word power was used a lot in commentary and rightly so. You can talk a lot about the fluffy things but when you lose the physical battle then more than often you won’t win the game.

“You saw the warning signs in the first half and Wales were holding on in the game when France’s big ball-carriers were come off the number nine.”

05:04 PM GMT

Martin Johnson on the BBC

“The writing was on the wall before the subs were made. Wales were trying to stem that power and as the first half went on the power was starting to tell.

“It was a really mature performance from France. Wales scored their best try at the start of the second half and then almost didn’t see the ball again.

04:59 PM GMT

Benjamin Kayser on the BBC

“It’s a fantastic victory for France, 45 points at the Principality Stadium doesn’t come every week.

“The youngsters played well but the bench was huge and it’s about how you use your bench.

“With a 6-2 split, bringing four forwards at the same time was key.

04:58 PM GMT

Jonathan Davies on the BBC

“It’s the dominance and the gainline up front. Wales tried to play wider but in the end, France plugged those gaps and forced Wales into errors.

“Once France reverted to their forward dominance and crashing over the gainline it showed and they came away with points from it.

04:47 PM GMT

Try France and full time

France go down the blindside. Penaud offloads inside Lucu who goes over for the try. Ramos’ conversion just misses to the left, his only miss out of nine today.

That is full time and France have really pulled away from Wales in this second half. It was tight at the break but France have run out easy winners in the end. France win 45-24 in Cardiff.

04:44 PM GMT

79 minutes: Wales 24 France 40

France counter through Lucu and Penaud and make their way into the Wales 22. But Barre is hit into touch around 10 metres out from the Wales line. We are inside the final minute. The Wales line-out is not straight so France have a scrum with the seconds ticking towards 80.

04:41 PM GMT

76 minutes: Wales 24 France 40

France scrum-half Le Garrec has been named man of the match.

04:38 PM GMT

Penalty France

Ramos sends the penalty through the posts and France’s lead has now grown to 16 points. Game over.

04:37 PM GMT

73 minutes: Wales 24 France 37

Wales overplay in their own 22 and are punished as France win a penalty at the breakdown. France opt for the three with the bonus-point try already in the bag.

04:33 PM GMT

Try France

Wales are the architects of their own downfall there. They waste a chance to counter down the right. They are in their own 22 and G Davies attempts a box kick. It is charged down by the huge figure of Romain Taofifenua and he gets to the ball first and dots down. Ramos nails the conversion and that is probably game, set and match. That is the bonus-point try for France.

04:28 PM GMT

Try France

The replays are fairly conclusive and France re-take the lead. How many times has the lead changed hands this afternoon. Tighthead prop Colombe is the man who forced his way over. Ramos lands the easy conversion. France lead 30-24.

04:27 PM GMT

65 minutes: Wales 24 France 23

After another great run by Penaud France have it just a few metres out from the Wales line. France think they have got over the line but referee Luke Pearce is not sure. This is going to the TMO...

04:22 PM GMT

Penalty France

It is an easy three points for France and Wales’ lead is just one point.

04:22 PM GMT

60 minutes: Wales 24 France 20

France have another penalty inside the Wales 22 after a galloping run by Penaud down the right wing. Wales must be close to a sin-bin. France have opted to go for three rather than scrum or go to the corner.

04:20 PM GMT

59 minutes: Wales 24 France 20

Luke Pearce this time decides to penalise France for an early engage. A big escape for Wales.

04:19 PM GMT

57 minutes: Wales 24 France 20

Alldritt knocks on at the base of the scrum but France have the penalty at the scrum. Wales need to be careful as they must be close to a yellow card at scrum-time.

04:18 PM GMT

No try

The TMO decides Alldritt knocked on so it is no try. We go back for a France penalty as they had the advantage.

04:16 PM GMT

Try France

Another penalty advantage to France but this time they get over under the posts through Alldritt. The TMO might want to have a look to see if Alldritt knocked on.

04:14 PM GMT

54 minutes: Wales 24 France 20

France have numerous penalty advantages within a few metres of the Welsh line. It looks like France are going to get in the corner but Ramos cannot find his way over the line and France knock on. Referee Luke Pearce goes back for the penalty and France opt for the scrum five metres out.

04:12 PM GMT

51 minutes: Wales 24 France 20

France have made a few changes in the pack; all change in the front-row as Mauvaka, S Taofifenua and Colombe come on. R Taofifenua has also come on.

04:06 PM GMT

46 minutes: Wales 24 France 20

France think they are through inside the Wales 22 but the ball is passed forwards. Wales have made a change in the front-row with Lewis on for Assiratti, perhaps with the dominant French scrum on their mind.

04:03 PM GMT

Try Wales

Three minutes into the second half and Wales re-take the lead through Roberts. Moments before T Williams came close after a neat offload from Costelow. They go wide to the left and Roberts manages to find his way over. He had two men to his left, so if he had not scored he would have had some angry eyes aimed at him. Costelow lands a tough conversion.

03:59 PM GMT

Second half

We are back under way at the Principality.

03:44 PM GMT

Half time

A forward pass from Barre to Bielle-Biarrey brings an end to this first half and France lead by three at the break.

03:42 PM GMT

38 minutes: Wales 17 France 20

France hit the edge of the Wales 22 but Fickou is penalised for rolling so Wales can clear their lines. Under two minutes to go in this first half.

03:38 PM GMT

33 minutes: Wales 17 France 20

France come so close to a try down the left-hand touchline but are driven into touch five metres out. But what should not be missed in the build-up is an absolutely outrageous back-of-the-hand reverse pass from Le Garrec that must have travelled at least 25 metres. That was quite something!

03:32 PM GMT

Try France

The try come but not from the scrum, which goes down. France are asked to use it and Fickou carries it to within a couple of metres out. Le Garrec dummies the pass and snipes over the line. Ramos has the easiest of conversions to restore France’s lead.

03:31 PM GMT

28 minutes: Wales 17 France 13

Le Garrec chips the ball over the top down the blindside on the edge of the Wales 22. The ball bounces high and Winnett just about grabs hold of it. He is forced over his own line so France will have the scrum five metres out. Expect a powerful French scrum.

03:28 PM GMT

Try Wales

There are a lot of French fans in the Principality this afternoon and they are certainly making some noise. But it is the Welsh fans making the noise now as Wales respond almost immediately. They break the France defensive line through Watkin down the left-hand side and he offloads inside to T Williams, who goes in under the posts. Costelow lands the simple conversion and the lead changes again.

03:26 PM GMT

Try France

France take the lead. They make good progress down the left wing and into the Wales 22. They then work it the other side and Fickou, the last man, beats Costelow rather easily and goes over in the corner despite the last-ditch efforts of Dyer and Jenkins. Ramos’ conversion is right near the touchline and he brings it around nicely to land the conversion. France lead by three.

03:23 PM GMT

21 minutes: Wales 10 France 6

Wales manage to get the ball out of the scrum quickly and clear downfield.

03:21 PM GMT

19 minutes: Wales 10 France 6

Wales manage to disrupt the French maul and win the scrum. But Wales will be worried after that first scrum.

03:21 PM GMT

18 minutes: Wales 10 France 6

Big mistake from young Wales 13 Roberts, who kicks out on the full. He was in his own 22 but the ball was passed back in so France have a line-out inside the Wales 22.

03:17 PM GMT

Penalty France

Ramos lands the easy penalty and reduces Wales’ lead to four points.

03:16 PM GMT

13 minutes: Wales 10 France 3

First scrum of the afternoon as Wales have the feed on their 22. France have a weight advantage of 70 kilograms, yes 70! France muller Wales in the opening scrum and win the penalty. They point to the posts with an easy three on offer.

03:13 PM GMT

Try Wales

Dyer has the first try of the afternoon. Wales have it just inside the French half and it is loose from a Wales ruck. Dyer steps inside a defender and sprints through a gap for the try from around 30 metres out. Costelow’s conversion is successful from in front of the posts.

03:08 PM GMT

Penalty France

Ramos duly delivers and we are all square once again.

03:08 PM GMT

6 minutes: Wales 3 France 0

France are well into double figures in terms of phases and as they hit the Wales 22, they are awarded a penalty for a Wales offside. It is right in front of the posts and it should be an easy three points to respond to Wales’ early penalty.

03:04 PM GMT

Penalty Wales

Costelow lands the penalty from around 35 metres out and Wales take a very early lead.

03:04 PM GMT

1 minute: Wales 0 France 0

Wales win a very early penalty as Reffell dominates at the breakdown. Some question marks around whether he supported his body weight but Luke Pearce awards Wales the penalty. Inside the French half Costelow points to the posts for a chance of three points...

03:02 PM GMT

Kick off

We are under way at the Principality Stadium.

02:59 PM GMT

Reminder of the team news

Wales: C Winnett; J Adams, J Roberts, O Watkin, R Dyer; S Costelow, T Williams; G Thomas, E Dee, K Assiratti, W Rowlands, A Beard, D Jenkins (capt), T Reffell, A Wainwright.

Replacements: E Lloyd, C Domachowski, D Lewis, A Mann, M Martin, G Davies, I Lloyd, M Grady.

France: Barre; Penaud, Fickou, Depoortere, Bielle-Biarrey; Ramos, Le Garrec; Baille, Marchand, Atonio, Flament, Meafou, Cros, Ollivon, Alldritt (capt).

Replacements: Mauvaka, S Taofifenua, Colombe, R Taofifenua, Roumat, Boudehent, Lucu, Moefana.

02:54 PM GMT

Anthem time

Both sides have emerged from the tunnel at the Principality and it is time for the national anthems. France’s “La Marseillaise” followed by Wales’ “Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau”.

02:44 PM GMT

Wales head coach Warren Gatland speaking to S4C

“Yesterday during the captain’s run Ryan Elias’ hamstring felt a bit tight, he went and saw the physios and they said it was too much of a risk.

“He’s had that type of injury before and we decided to make the change with Elliot Dee starting and Evan Lloyd coming onto the bench. Joe Roberts has been training really well and we’ve been really impressed with him and we wanted to see Owen Watkin at 12.

“We didn’t want to make that many changes, if we hadn’t have made that change in the centres we maybe would have started Mason Grady.

“We’ve got to keep the ball on the park, particularly in their half, we’ve got to go through lots of phases, and if you do that against the French you tend to get something whether it be a linebreak or a penalty.

“Got to try and play at a high tempo and take France to a dark place. There’s always a lot of pressure but the results from yesterday show how good it is for the competition.

“We’ve seen a few upsets and you want that for the Six Nations, that bit of jeopardy and for us today the next fortnight is really important.”

02:38 PM GMT

French preparations

02:31 PM GMT

Welsh preparations

02:26 PM GMT

Home side arrive

02:19 PM GMT

Did you see that coming?

Yesterday was a day of shocks and the underdogs in the Six Nations. First up, Rome. Scotland were hoping to put the pressure on Ireland with a win over Italy and at one point led by 12 points. Back came Italy, who went on to win the game 31-29 and cause the first upset of the day.

Then it was on to Twickenham, where England were heavy underdogs against an Ireland side looking to continue their hopes for back-to-back Grand Slams. Marcus Smith’s last-minute drop goal won the game for England and ended Irish dreams. Gregor Townsend and Scotland will be regretting their defeat in Rome with Ireland slipping up later in the day.

In the final round next weekend Scotland travel to Dublin to take on Ireland, England play France in Lyon and Wales host Italy.

02:12 PM GMT

Visitors arriving

02:02 PM GMT

Team news

Fabien Galthie has rung the changes for France as they make eight changes to the side that drew 13-13 with Italy two weeks ago. Captain Gregory Alldritt returns from injury whilst fly-half Mathieu Jalibert misses out due to injury. Full-back Leo Barre, centre Nicolas Depoortere and lock Emmanuel Meafou make their debuts. Louis Bielle-Biarrey, Nolann Le Garrec, Thibaud Flament and Julien Marchand also come into the starting XV. Jonathan Danty is suspended after his red card against Italy.

France: Barre; Penaud, Fickou, Depoortere, Bielle-Biarrey; Ramos, Le Garrec; Baille, Marchand, Atonio, Flament, Meafou, Cros, Ollivon, Alldritt (capt).

Replacements: Mauvaka, S Taofifenua, Colombe, R Taofifenua, Roumat, Boudehent, Lucu, Moefana.

Wales head coach Warren Gatland has dropped his centre pairing of Nick Tompkins and George North for a new pairing of Joe Roberts and Owen Watkin. Captain Dafydd Jenkins switches from lock to the back-row with Will Rowlands coming into the second-row to partner Adam Beard. Wales have been forced into a late change at hooker; Ryan Elias was down to start ahead of Elliot Dee, but Elias has a tight hamstring. So Dee starts on his 50th appearance and uncapped Evan Lloyd comes onto the bench.

Wales: C Winnett; J Adams, J Roberts, O Watkin, R Dyer; S Costelow, T Williams; G Thomas, E Dee, K Assiratti, W Rowlands, A Beard, D Jenkins (capt), T Reffell, A Wainwright.

Replacements: E Lloyd, C Domachowski, D Lewis, A Mann, M Martin, G Davies, I Lloyd, M Grady.

Late disruption for Wales with hooker Ryan Elias pulling out with hamstring tightness. Elliot Dee is promoted from the bench and uncapped Evan Lloyd, the 22-year-old from Penarth who is yet to start for Cardiff, takes the hooker bench spot.

And good luck to him, against the heavy artillery that France have locked and loaded on their own bench.

01:55 PM GMT

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01:39 PM GMT

Match preview

In the final game of round four of the 2024 Six Nations, Wales host France at the Principality Stadium. It is safe to say that both sides have had a difficult competition to date.

France’s challenging campaign began with a heavy home defeat by Ireland in their opening game before a narrow away win at Scotland. They drew 13-13 at home last time out against Italy, leaving them fourth in the table and the pressure building on head coach Fabien Galthie.

Wales go into this afternoon’s match second from bottom after losing their first three matches. Their recent record in the Six Nations is terrible; they have lost 10 of their last 11 games in the competition.

Wales head coach Warren Gatland has chosen to change his centre pairing, with George North and Nick Tompkins being replaced by Joe Roberts and Owen Watkin. Gatland has explained the reasons why he has left out North and Tompkins.

“They (North and Tompkins) were outstanding during the World Cup,” said Gatland. “Again, it’s a chance for us to look at a few other players.”

Wales winger George North speaking to the media
George North (pictured) is out of the Wales matchday 23 this afternoon against France - Ben Birchall/PA

“George and I have had some honest discussions about whether he gets through to the next World Cup. He started at a very young age at 18 he was playing for Wales.

“Part of our discussions was about how we manage him going forward. We’ve got to make sure we’ve got some depth in that 13 position, that’s why Joe gets an opportunity.

“We’ve had a conversation with George. I must say how the two boys have responded after the disappointment of being left out this week, they have been fantastic in the way they’ve trained and helped the team.

“It’s a credit to them. Apart from that disappointment, they’ve been outstanding for us.”

In last year’s meeting in Paris, France won 41-28, which means France have won the last four meetings in the Six Nations.