France end Six Nations on a high with Wales win

PARIS, March 18 (Reuters) - France ended their Six Nations campaign with an emphatic 41-28 victory over Wales at the Stade de France on Saturday, and although they surrendered their title, Les Bleus showed they would be among the favourites when they host the World Cup in six months.

Damian Penaud crossed twice, Jonathan Danty, Uini Atonio and Gael Fickou scored a try each and Thomas Ramos kicked the other points, meaning Fabien Galthie's side were still in a position to win the championship if Ireland were to lose to England without a bonus point later on Saturday.

Ireland, however, completed their fourth Six Nations Grand Slam with a 29-16 victory over England in Dublin.

Wales, who looked to be heading for a much bigger loss early in the second half, fought back and finished with four tries by George North, Bradley Roberts, Tomos Williams and Rio Dyer, the other points coming from the boots of Dan Biggar and Leigh Halfpenny.

France finished second on 20 points, seven behind Ireland, with Wales in fifth place.

"We realised that we got off to an unremarkable start in this championship but we did what we could, tried our best," said France coach Fabien Galthie.

"We did some fine-tuning and it bore fruits even if there is still room for improvement."

His Wales counterpart Warren Gatland drew some positive despite the defeat.

"I thought we showed some real character. We started well, just we gave them a couple of soft tries. The game could have gone away from us significantly but the impact of the bench was excellent," he said.

"There was a lot of improvement in today's performance but we're not quite there, there's a lot to do (ahead of the World Cup."

Wales made a perfect start, holding the ball as they worked through the phases and their domination was rewarded with North's early try between the posts.

France's reaction was as brutal as it was brilliant, a week after inflicting a record mauling on England at Twickenham and they have now scored 12 tries and 94 points in their last two tests.

ATTACKING MOVE

On their first attacking move, Penaud collected a long pass from Antoine Dupont and crossed in the corner after Romain Ntamack had escaped several tackles to dance his way through the middle.

In a fierce battle, France built a lead through two Ramos penalties and as the visitors suffered physically, Danty added another try to extend the advantage to 13 points after Ramos's conversion.

Danty dived over in the corner after quick movement of the ball wide out to the right.

France's third try was a show of force as Atonio powered through to help Les Bleus steer further clear and Fickou claimed the fourth try after being set up by Ntamack.

The home side, however, took things a little too lightly and Wales made the most of it with a neat try by Roberts after Ramos's overly-ambitious run from behind the try-line was quickly halted.

France's casual approach was again punished when Williams scored the visitors' third try from a lineout 10 metres from the French line.

Normal service resumed inside the final five minutes as Penaud touched down in the corner again and Ramos converted to give France a 20-point lead, cancelling out Ireland's point-difference advantage.

Ramos scored 82 points in this tournament, becoming the best French scorer in a single Six Nations, just seven points short of Jonny Wilkinson's record.

But Dyer surged through in the last minute and Halfpenny converted to reduce the gap to 13 points, giving Ireland a better chance of taking the title.

They did not need that, however, as they wrapped it up comfortably against England.

Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ed Osmond

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