MIKE Phillips underlined Wales’ renewed RBS 6 Nations title aspirations as they went from zeroes to heroes at Stade de France.
Almost a year after Wales last beat another Test-playing country – France in Cardiff to win the Grand Slam – they ended a painful run of eight successive defeats.
It was their first victory in Paris since 2005 and a biggest triumph over Les Bleus on French soil for 38 years. Wales also kept France try-less against them for a third game on the bounce.
And although there is still an awful lot to do in playing catch-up following last weekend’s home loss against Ireland, Phillips and company have at least given themselves a fighting chance of securing silverware.
‘‘To triumph in a place like Stade de France has to be one of the best victories we have had as a squad,’’ scrum-half Phillips said.
‘‘We are a far better team than we have been showing, and it was fortunate we had another game so quickly after last Saturday to put things right.
“We were adamant we were going to do well in the first 20 minutes and not make another bad start. ’’The body language of the French told us we were doing well.
“They were blowing and had their hands on their knees, and we knew if we could keep the tempo up we would take the sting out of their attack, even though we were blowing ourselves at times.
“But that is international rugby for you – it’s hard.”
Wing George North’s 73rdminute try after he gathered a clever Dan Biggar kick into space behind the French defence saw Wales home 16-6, with full-back Leigh Halfpenny underpinning the victory through three penalties and a conversion from four shots at goal.
The game will not live long in the memory for moments of great skill or high-octane drama – at times it was a poor advert for the Six Nations – but Wales ultimately achieved a win they craved so much.
A towering defensive display rendered the French bankrupt as an attacking force, and Les Bleus will head to Twickenham in two weeks’ time propping up the Six Nations table. For the first time since 1982 they have suffered back-to-back defeats at the start of a championship campaign, yet with England away and Ireland away still on this season’s schedule, it could get a whole lot worse.
Wales did exactly what captain Ryan Jones urged them to do. They fronted up, were bold and met the French challenge head-on, with their fiercely-committed effort highlighted by the likes of Phillips, centre Jamie Roberts and number eight Toby Faletau.
“When you are in a losing team, you have got to expect criticism a little bit, but we knew we weren’t far off turning it around,’’ Phillips added.
“We are a good team. We won the Grand Slam last year and we are still in this championship.
‘‘It’s a tough world, and in rugby one minute you are the hero and the next you’re rubbish, but you have got to be strong.
“It is a difficult tournament and anybody can beat anybody.
Who knows what can happen?’’ Italy in Rome provide Wales’ next Six Nations opposition, and Halfpenny, who was once again immaculate with all aspects of his performance, stressed what the Paris result should do for morale.
“It has been tough in terms of results, but hopefully this will turn things around,’’ he said.
“The confidence we will get from this win will be immense, and we can concentrate now on what we set out to do from the start, which is to retain the title. We knew this game was key. It was my third time in Paris, and I know how difficult it is to get a win here, but the boys dug deep and had that hunger and desperation to win.”