Wales 23-19 France

(IRB.COM) Saturday 14 June 2008
By Graham Clutton
From Swansea
 
 Wales 23-19 France
Wales snatched victory from the jaws of defeat against France - Photo: Huw Evans

Leigh Halfpenny put host nation Wales into the semi-finals of the IRB Junior World Championship 2008 with a dramatic injury time try to break French hearts at Liberty Stadium in Swansea on Saturday.

France, who were missing injured captain Morgan Parra along with suspended duo Mathieu Bastareaud and Djibril Camara, had led 19-9 before Wales delighted the crowd with a rousing fightback.

First came a penalty try awarded by Australian referee James Leckie as Wales piled pressure on the French defence, then as time appeared to be running out they swung the ball wide where players queued up to score with Halfpenny touching down.

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France had not enjoyed the best of starts to this Pool D decider, losing second row Adam Jauhlac to the sin-bin in the eighth minute and while he was off, Halfpenny kicked two penalties for Wales. However fly half Mathieu Belie levelled matters with two penalties.

Then, as France threatened to take the lead, the fly half scuffed drop goal attempts deep inside the Wales half before slotting a third from 30 metres just past the half hour mark.

It had been a fairly uncompromising affair between the sides in the Under 20 Six Nations earlier this year – a game which Wales had edged, but only just – and when Halfpenny kicked his third penalty in injury time it promised to be another tense second period.

A late tackle from Haydn Pugh earned him a trip to the sin-bin six minutes into the second half and from the ensuing penalty, Belie struck the post and the ball dropped invitingly into the arms of wing Benjamin Fall, who crossed for his pivot to convert.

Belie’s penalty after 68 minutes gave France extra breathing space at 19-9, but a yellow card for captain Yoann Maestri 10 minutes later gave the Welsh renewed hope and they were ultimately rewarded for their refusal to accept defeat.

QUOTES

Wales flanker Josh Turnbull: "It was a very, very tough game and the boys are very sore after that. We were not making much headway in the second half because their defence was superb, but we kept going and the try was the reward for our efforts."
 
Wales Assistant Coach Rob Appleyard: "It was a tough game and one which we thought we had lost going into the final 10 minutes. However, we stuck in there and never stopped trying. We kept going and obviously we were delighted when Leigh Halfpenny went over in the corner. It was a great finish to a very tough game. Now, it gets even tougher with a game against New Zealand. However, we are in good spirits and we will give it our best."
 
France Assistant Coach Philippe Boher: "I am very disappointed for the players because it was a game we should have won. We were 10 points clear with 10 minutes to go and then we started turning over the ball. All credit to Wales, they never stopped, until the final whistle and they will be very happy with that."