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Wales hands France second Six Nations loss

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Associated Press
2/9/2013 2:58:22 PM
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PARIS -- Wales finally ended a miserable run of eight straight defeats and sent a witless France into wooden-spoon territory with a surprising 16-6 victory in Six Nations rugby on Saturday.

George North scored the only try, the match-winner, of a turgid match when he collected a Dan Biggar chip and dived into the left corner with nine minutes to go.

Wales tasted victory for the first time since winning the Grand Slam last year, in a city it hadn't won in for eight years.

"Pretty special day for the Welsh team," interim coach Rob Howley said. "The style of defence we operate put them under a lot of pressure. The players deserve a lot of accolades.

"It's obviously a relief, it's been a long time. But you don't become a bad team overnight, those narrow losses before became a win today and now we can take that to Italy."

After losing to Italy last weekend, France failed to respond positively and played even worse. The crowd had already been jeering the home team's clueless effort, but North's converted try to break a 6-6 deadlock prompted some fans to throw litter onto the field, and fulltime set off only harsher whistles of frustration.

"How do I explain this black hole? You have to accept that the Welsh came here to win after losing eight games in a row," France coach Philippe Saint-Andre said. "You have to score when you're on top, and in the first half we had two great chances but couldn't take them.

"We were flying in November and at the moment it's very, very tough: We are at the bottom of the Six Nations."

Looking ahead to the away match in England on Feb. 23, he said, "We have to lift our heads up and prepare like commandos to go and play at Twickenham. We can't win the Six Nations now but we can win respect."

France has started the tournament it was favoured to win with consecutive defeats for the first time since 1982.

"It's pretty hard to take," France flanker Thierry Dusautoir said. "It's difficult to get the better of teams if we can't take our chances. Other teams have one chance against us and score."

France flyhalf Frederic Michalak and Wales fullback Leigh Halfpenny kicked two penalties each, the only scoring in the first 70 minutes, and Halfpenny closed the scoring with his third.

"Words cannot describe how much this means -- what a fantastic feeling," Halfpenny said. "The boys played unbelievably well. We dug deep to get this fantastic win, it's been a long time coming."

France's poor effort was matched by the state of the Stade de France field, which became cratered as large clumps of turf stuck out where the scrums, notably, couldn't find any leverage in the dirt. Not helping was playing on the same field three days after the football match between France and Germany.

Aside from one surging run through midfield from France fullback Yoann Huget, the Welsh had the early possession, but careless handling and knock ons undermined them.

Michalak scored first from 40 metres, and Halfpenny levelled in front of the posts.

France briefly came to life as centre Mathieu Bastareaud bulldozed his way through midfield, but Huget was held up just before the tryline and his off-balance offload to Michalak bounced behind the flyhalf. It was one of very few attacking moves in near freezing conditions.

While the first half was far from spectacular, some of the tackling was ruthless, with little ground given in midfield. At one point, Wales No. 8 Toby Faletau was lifted clean off his feet as several French forwards crowded around him when he attempted to forage forward, and prop Gethin Jenkins went off with blood pouring from his head moments before the break.

The French went off to jeers and whistles from the notoriously hard-to-please Stade de France crowd, and their mood did not improve when Halfpenny knocked over another penalty shortly after the restart.

Flyhalf Francois Trinh-Duc came on at halftime in an unaccustomed position of fullback and missed with a dropped goal attempt before Michalak made it 6-6.

Wales finally turned their territorial dominance into a try in the 71st as Biggar spotted open space and set up North to dot down inside the left corner flag.

"One thing the players have done over the last six months is worn the jersey with pride," Howley said. "Today we came out on the right side of the scoreboard."

George North (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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