From desperados to dreamland in 40 minutes. What a game, what a night, what a turnaround. Wales were gone. They were beaten, battered, bruised and bullied — 16-0 down at half-time.
And then they won. Quite how or why will be one for the annals. The facts are that Louis Picamoles and Yoann Huget scored first-half tries, Camille Lopez hit a penalty and a drop goal and this game was seemingly over after 40 minutes.
But Tomos Williams started it, then George North was gifted an easy try by the hapless Huget. And when, with 17 minutes left, Dan Biggar nudged Wales ahead, the stunning comeback was on.
George North played a starring role for Wales as they produced an historic comeback in the second-half to beat France
The 26-year-old winger (left) produced a Man of the Match performance to help Wales win their opening Six Nations game
Warren Gatland’s side produced two distinctly different performances in either half as France chucked away a 16-0 lead
It is a dream start for Wales as they look to wrestle the Six Nations title out of the hands of Joe Schmidt’s Ireland this month
‘We’ve become a side that has forgotten how to lose,’ said head coach Warren Gatland. ‘We know we get better the more time we have together.
‘We’ll be better after today. Our game management was not what it should have been, we will tidy things up for next week.’
There cannot be too many sights scarier in rugby than an incandescent Shaun Edwards, and Wales’s defensive guru would have been furious at half-time, such was the shoddiness of his side’s efforts.
France were superb. They beat the Welsh up with their enormous 150stone pack, then caused chaos out wide with their fast-running backs.
By the break, Wales had to make history to win as the biggest comeback was a 13-point deficit in 1999 when they trailed Argentina 23-10 at the break and won 36-26.
Wales’ Liam Williams escapes the clutches of the French rearguard as he scampers clear inside a wet Stade de France
Physicality was a key battle that was meant to favour the French but Wales stood up to the test following a shaky first-half
It was a perfect start for France and they raced into a 5-0 lead after the first try of the game was scored by Louis Picamoles
With France buoyed by their bright start Wales were stunned and their supporters in Paris could not believe the contest
MATCH FACTS IN PARIS
France (16) 19 Wales (0) 24
France: Tries: Picamoles, Huget. Pens: Lopez 2. Drop Goals: Lopez.
France: Medard, Penaud, Fofana, Ntamack, Huget, Lopez, Parra, Poirot, Guirado, Atonio, Vahaamahina, Willemse, Lauret, Iturria, Picamoles.
Replacements: Fickou for Penaud (63), Doumayrou for Fofana (67), Serin for Parra (58), Priso for Poirot (61), Marchand for Guirado (58), Bamba for Atonio (48), Lambey for Willemse (58), Alldritt for Picamoles (71).
Wales: Tries: T. Williams, North 2. Cons: Anscombe 2, Biggar. Pens: Biggar.
Wales: L. Williams, North, J. Davies, Parkes, Adams, Anscombe, T. Williams, R. Evans, Owens, Francis, Beard, A. Jones, Navidi, Tipuric, Moriarty.
Replacements: Watkin for Parkes (77), Biggar for Anscombe (53), G. Davies for T. Williams (53), W. Jones for R. Evans (73), Dee for Owens (73), Lee for Francis (57), Hill for Beard (48), Wainwright for Navidi (78).
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England).
By the seventh minute, France had their first try. Crashing through the phases until the opening came, Lopez passed to Maxime Medard, who found Picamoles in space.
The No 8 stepped off his right foot and eased past Gareth Anscombe to score. Morgan Parra missed the kick and the next penalty from 47 metres, but no matter as the next try came soon after.
Before that, Anscombe attempted a long penalty and missed by a mile. Then Wales thought they had a try. Josh Navidi nicked a ball expertly from Picamoles, then carried well after a deft pass from Tomos Williams, charging on.
Hadleigh Parkes then found Liam Williams out wide and he went in. But the replay showed he had lost control of the ball as he slid over, Picamoles disrupting him to make amends.
At the other end, France flanker Arthur Iturria flicked a fabulous out-the-back-door offload on the wing to Yoann Huget. North was beaten for pace and the French wing scored before saluting the Stade de France.
Anscombe was having an horrendous evening along with scrum-half Williams, on his first Six Nations outing. Another shanked penalty and a kick out on the full followed.
There was plenty of support inside the Stade de France for Gatland’s side with fans showing off daffodils and Welsh flags
Morgan Parra impressed for France and it looked to be heading for a disappointing – and bruising – defeat for the visitors
Leaving for the interval there were disappointed reactions etched on the faces of the Wales players with a fight-back needed
Gatland pondered his game-plan for the second half as he became drenched returning to the confines of the changing rooms
Then Lopez kicked one from in front of the posts, and slotted an audacious drop goal right on half-time from 40metres with his left foot.
Gatland had predicted if Wales won they would be on for the title in March — at this rate his swansong Six Nations was looking likely to end in tears.
But his team had not won nine Tests in a row for nothing and Josh Adams rekindled the Welsh flame. He set up Tomos Williams, who trotted in for his first Six Nations score.
Anscombe kicked something straight at last and, after 47 minutes, Welsh hopes were alive.
Then a howler from Huget gifted Wales a try and, incredibly, they were within two points. Parkes stabbed an average kick into the French 22, North hared after it and Huget spilled on the line. North had his 35th Welsh try, the easiest of the lot. Anscombe converted before being replaced by Biggar.
France were now nervy, and Lopez missed yet another penalty to take his tally to 10 points spurned.
Out for the second half Wales looked a different proposition and soon wrestled back much-needed momentum in the match
Tomos Williams crossed for a try and suddenly the hosts appeared rattled, well aware that Wales were full of confidence again
With the score in the visitors favour, France battled hard to take back control but Gatland’s men stood up well to the task
In the end it proved to be a record turnaround for Wales in Paris and sets their Six Nations campaign off on the right foot
Biggar showed him how it was done when he struck a long-range penalty to put Wales into the lead. Welsh fires were now raging.
France went back in front with a Lopez penalty but North’s last act, nicking a Seb Vahaamahina pass and going clear, had Wales in raptures.
‘Weather conditions played a big part,’ said Gatland. ‘To win this tournament you need a bit of luck. We will improve. It was great that George North scored twice but I am disappointed he stepped off his wing for Huget’s try. But to be fair to him he went for the interception and it was a big moment.’
Captain Alun Wyn Jones added: ‘A 16-point swing usually doesn’t happen in Test rugby but we managed to get the snowball effect going.’