Source: 6 Nations

Cymru plumb the depths

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Wales v France

It was do-or-die time for the Welsh.

I hesitate to cast blame in one direction, but I feel the coaches have a lot to answer for. Why were the backs so limited in their attacking options? Why did players mass close to the breakdown without any obvious plan for exploiting the next possession? The team’s total of 33 points in four games leaves them only nine points behind the Scots, but they have won two games, the Welsh none.

How has a team that finished third two years running managed to fall away so dispiritingly? I look to the people in charge.

It wasn’t as if the French were right at the top of their game. They were far superior in most aspects, but once again they couldn’t finish off a beaten team with the ruthlessness you might have expected. Their totals, 38, 15, 38 and this latest, 40, show competence, but not world- beating dominance.

Ioan Cunningham reshaped his starting XV once again, though in the event it looked more like shuffling cards. There is a lack of overall pace in the squad which cannot easily be righted.

Dramatic Opening Moments

The game started well enough for them. France gave up possession, and Anne-Cécile Ciofani, the highly experienced 7s player, but making her debut in 15s, was found guilty of a high tackle in the opening two minutes. During the period she was off the field, (she was allowed to return after a review), Wales showed little awareness of the spaces on offer out wide. They kept the ball close, the pack hammering into collision after collision. In the end Sian Jones box-kicked to clear her own 22.

The French line-out hiccupped early on, but Pauline Bourdon Sansus started a move in deep defence that finished in touch in the Welsh 22. Now Wales went to sleep. It was Lina Queyroi who took a quick line-out, and Annaëlle Deshaye who finished the move with a flourish. All too easy. 0-7

Even worse: Wales moved the ball to the right wing, but from midfield. Catherine Richards had no room to manoeuvre; they brought the ball back to the middle, built a series of thrusts at the line, but like other sides this weekend, couldn’t outwit the defenders. Finally they threw the ball out wide left, where the final pass to Courtney Keight was easily intercepted by Joanna Grisez, another of the 7s returners. She sauntered 95 metres to the line. Nobody had the pace to catch her. 0-14

Once more Wales spread the ball to the right wing, but Richards was tackled into touch. They just couldn’t create space.

Now the French were seen at their best. Teani Feleu, installed today at No 8, picked up at a scrum and broke blind-side down the left. As she met the first defender she passed to Romane Ménager, arriving hotfoot on her right shoulder. Ménager simply accelerated, as her sister would have done if she had been playing centre today, and scored a tearaway try. 0-19

It became noticeable that Wales were attempting flat passes to break defences, but they brought further risk of interception.

On 27 minutes a curious stat popped up: Wales 71% possession, France 29%.

As the break approached, the Welsh tried hard to open the door, but after a sequence of passes and recycles, Lleucu George could do no more than place an inventive grubber through to the left touch-line. Her performances have demonstrated the gulf between even the most successful club in England and international standards. She certainly wasn’t able to get her back-line moving smoothly.

Half-time 0-19

I tried not to imagine what the Welsh coaches were saying to their troops inside. Where could they lay the emphasis? Whatever they did say, it had no effect. The team restarted just as untidily, knock-ons and penalties conceded. Davidson even marched them back 10 metres. Not a good sign.

Forty-five minutes from the start, and no mention yet of Gabrielle Vernier. Not to worry; as the ball is swung left, she cuts a different line and shimmies through to score France’s fifth. 0-26

That is the invaluable bonus ensured.

Sisilia Tuipulotu makes two powerful drives to remind us of better times, but, almost inevitably, a ruck isn’t soundly formed and possession is conceded.

By now Jasmine Joyce, Keira Bevan and Gwennan Hopkins have appeared. Bevan brIngs a shade more incisiveness to the attack, but Joyce’s contributions make you wonder whether trying to mix 7s and 15s is such a good idea. Ciofani has already seen yellow, and Kayleigh Powell can do little to further her claims to the 15 shirt. Only Meg Jones of England has made a strong case for sticking to both targets.

Twelve minutes elapse between France’s fifth and sixth tries. Do we count that as a small plus for Wales? Now it is the captain’s turn to score. She’s on the end of a series of efficient phases, the ball constantly made available to a supporting player. 0-33

Card-lovers are allowed another flourish. Assia Khalfaoui is found guilty of one more high tackle and shown yellow. Can Wales exploit the advantage this time? No.

As the end approaches, they do speed their game up and show enterprise in attack. But as the ball moves right, Joyce drops what looks like an acceptable pass, and all is gloom again.

In deep defence Wales make one more big effort. Good on them. But, horror of horrors, a wild pass under pressure in a set-piece move goes wrong. The ball bounces up neatly into Grisez’ hands and she trots over.

This is to be a game that overruns considerably. To their great credit Wales keep attacking, desperate to get one score on the board. The immediate upshot is a further yellow for Chloë Jacquet in the 82nd minute, as she attempts to intercept a promising pass. No question in Davidson’s mind of a penalty try; but Wales’ cup remains empty.

Result: Cymru 0 France 40 Teams

Cymru

15 Kayleigh Powell 14 *Catherine Richards 13 Hannah Jones (captain) 12 Carys Cox 11 Courtney Keight 10 Lleucu George 9 Sian Jones 1 Gwenllian Pyrs 2 Carys Phillips 3 Sisilia Tuipulotu 4 Abbie Fleming 5 Natalia John 6 Alishia Butchers 7 Alex Callender 8 Georgia Evans

16 Molly Reardon 17 Abbey Constable 18 Donna Rose 19 Kate Williams 20 Gwennan Hopkins 21 Keira Bevan 22 *Mollie Wilkinson 23 Jasmine Joyce

France

15 Emilie Boulard 14 Joanna Grisez 13 Chloë Jacquet 12 Gabrielle Vernier 11 *Anne-Cécile Ciofani 10 Lina Queyroi 9 Pauline Bourdon Sansus 1 Annaëlle Deshaye 2 Agathe Sochat 3 Assia Khalfaoui 4 Manae Feleu (captain) 5 Charlotte Escudero 6 Romane Ménager, 7 Emeline Gros 8 Teani Feleu

16 Elisa Riffonneau 17 Ambre Mwayembe 18 Clara Joyeux 19 Madoussou Fall 20 Gaëlle Hermet 21 22 Lina Tuy 23 Morgane Bourgeois

*uncapped

Officials:

Referee: Hollie Davidson (SRU)
ARs: Clara Munarini (FIR) and Maria Latos (DFB) TMO: Matteo Liperini (FIR)

Table                        W      L      Pts

England                   4        0        20
France                      4       0         19
Scotland                  2        2          8
Italy                          1        3          6
Ireland                     1        3          6
Wales                       0        4          1

Afterthoughts

The risk the French selectors took was to introduce all three of the Sevens players in the group into the starting 15. They had only recently arrived back from Hong Kong. Although Anne-Cécile Ciofani was the top try-scorer for the 7s squad this season (28 tries in 30 matches), she was a raw recruit to the 15s outfit.

But with both the regular centres, Marine Ménager and Nassira Kondé out of action, this was an ideal chance to throw a new three-quarter line together. And there was still Gaby Vernier in the middle to pull the levers.

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