Wales beats France 29-12 to win rugby’s Six Nations for second Grand Slam
Stuart Condie, THE ASSOCIATED PRESSSat Mar 15, 4:23 PM ET
LONDON – Wales won rugby’s Six Nations championship Saturday by beating France 29-12 to complete just its second Grand Slam in 30 years.
Shane Williams scored a breakaway try midway through the second half at Millennium Stadium before Martin Williams added a late touchdown to secure just a second victory in eight meetings with France.
Wales, which had been an outside shot for the title, struggled to break down the visiting defence for most of the game until Shane Williams kicked ahead from a stray pass and outpaced his opponents to touch down under the posts.
Martin Williams, who rescinded his retirement to take part in the tournament after Warren Gatland took over as coach in December, then broke the defensive line with three minutes left to burst through and score.
The Welsh were rarely troubled and never looked in danger of losing by 19 points or more – the only result that could have given France the championship.
“I’ve talked all along about people having dreams,” Wales captain Ryan Jones said. “It’s absolutely amazing. We’ve defended superbly and that’s what’s won us this championship.
“It’s just been a magnificent eight weeks.”
The loss dropped France to third place in the tournament, below England, which beat Ireland 33-10 to end its championship on a high.
Scotland avoided last place on points difference, despite a 23-20 loss at Italy.
Flyhalf James Hook kicked three penalties to put Wales 9-6 ahead at halftime and, although France rarely threatened and constantly took the ball into contact, the visitors drew level when scrumhalf Jean-Baptiste Elissalde got his third kick.
But France only got back into the game with Wales centre Gavin Henson off the field for 10 minutes for a high tackle on flanker Fulgence Ouedraogo.
With Henson, who has never lost a Six Nations match, back on the field, Wales steadied and the deadlock was broken by winger Shane Williams, who chased and gathered his own kick ahead to score.
It was his sixth try of the tournament and his 41st overall, taking him clear of the record he had shared with Gareth Thomas.
Stephen Jones, who had replaced Hook, kicked the conversion and a penalty three minutes later to extend the lead to 19-9.
Dimitri Yachvili’s penalty brought the French to within seven points before Jones landed another kick a minute later to restore the 10-point advantage.
Martyn Williams then made the result secure when he burst from the French 22 to touch down.
Jones converted and France’s failure to breach the Welsh line meant the champions tied England’s tournament record of conceding just two tries in a season.
Danny Cipriani kicked 18 points for England on his international debut but his accurate place kicking, authority over his teammates and slick passing were just as important.
The flyhalf, whose debut ended Jonny Wilkinson’s decade-long run as England’s first-choice playmaker, helped set up scores for Paul Sackey, Mathew Tait and Jamie Noon as the home side rallied from 10-0 down to outscore Ireland by three tries to one.
“It may have been my first game but I have played it a million times in my head,” Cipriani said. “I was awake until 4 a.m. this morning thinking about it.”
England’s first win over the Irish since 2003 puts it above Ireland, Italy and Scotland and gives cause for optimism as it rebuilds in the wake of retirements by key players.
England trailed 10-0 after seven minutes following a converted try by Rob Kearney and a penalty from Ronan O’Gara but was tied by the 20th as it put together its best passages of play in this season’s tournament.
Cipriani scored a 12th-minute penalty and then set up Sackey for a break that gave England a platform to recycle possession. The ball went wide to the right to Iain Balshaw, who slipped a pass to Sackey in the tackle for the winger to cross.
Cipriani converted and struck a penalty each side of halftime to make it 16-10 before he was joined on the field by Wilkinson. Playing at inside centre, Wilkinson helped put replacement winger Tait away to touch down on the right.
Cipriani retained the kicking duties from Wilkinson, who became international rugby’s leading scorer last week, and slotted the conversion to continue a faultless game with the boot before supplying the pass that allowed Noon to barge through two tacklers and crash over.
Cipriani converted and completed the win with a fourth penalty.
Italy rallied from 17-10 at halftime to win for the first time this season but still finished below Scotland at the bottom of the standings.
The match looked to be headed to a tie with the teams each having scored two tries but Andrea Marcato kicked a last-minute drop goal to take his tally to 13 points and clinch Italy’s third win over the Scots since entering the Six Nations in 2000.
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