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Six Nations: French march on as Welsh fall just short

Wales 20 France 26

WALES coach Warren Gatland admitted his side had to stop “pressing the self-destruct button” after losing 26-20 to France in the RBS 6 Nations last night.

Wales trailed 20-0 at half-time but threatened to repeat their famous late comeback against Scotland before France regained their composure to hold on.

“I'm proud of the second-half performance,” Gatland said. “We were 20 points down, victims of our own intercepts, and we could have given it away but I'm proud of what we did in terms of coming back.

“The guys dug deep and put on a really good display in the second half. France never really threatened our line, they got two intercepts and kicked four penalties but never really got into our 22.

“We just have to stop pushing the self-destruct button. We have a few things to work on to make sure we don't make critical mistakes, but if we hadn't conceded soft tries in the first half it was a game for us to win.”

Wing Shane Williams added: “It was a bit of deja vu, the way we've started the last three games.

“It's very frustrating, sometimes you get punished for trying to play rugby.

“We try to play rugby, we started positive but two intercepts made it very difficult for us. Sometimes we try to play too much and it was all catch-up in the second half again.”

The win means France continue their march towards probable RBS 6 Nations Grand Slam glory.

The unbeaten tournament favourites will secure a first championship clean sweep since 2004 if they win their remaining two games against Italy and England in Paris next month.

Les Bleus look unstoppable, emphasised by an irresistible first-half display that took them 20 points clear through tries by wing Alexis Palisson and fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc.

Scrum-half Morgan Parra added 13 points from the boot, while Wales could only manage two Stephen Jones penalties during the third quarter.

Comeback kings Wales, who scored 17 points in injury-time to beat Scotland 13 days ago, threatened another another remarkable revival when wings Leigh Halfpenny and Shane Williams posted second-half tries — but France sealed success through a late Frederic Michalak penalty and further Parra strike.

Williams' magical solo score took him to 50 for Wales and broke Gareth Edwards' Welsh record of 18 touchdowns in the Five/Six Nations.

France's triumph keeps alive the prospect of a March 20 Grand Slam shoot-out when England arrive at Stade de France.

Even though Wales stepped up a gear in the second period, they found France too composed, organised and powerful as they claimed a third successive win for the first time during coach Marc Lievremont's two-year reign.

Lievremont's Wales counterpart Warren Gatland, though, has plenty to ponder. If Wales lose to Ireland in Dublin in a fortnight's time, their home game against Italy seven days later could decide who finishes bottom of this season's championship and takes the wooden spoon.

That seems rough justice on a Wales side that loves to entertain, but they have lost the winning habit evident in Gatland's first season at the helm when his team were crowned 2008 Grand Slam champions.

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