Rugby Union / Six Nations / Wales edges France to seal Grand Slam
England's defense of its title ended with second place after its overhauled side powered to a 30-9 win over Ireland, which finished third.
LONDON - Wales fought its way to a third Grand Slam in eight seasons Saturday, beating France 16-9 in a Six Nations match more notable for atmosphere than entertainment.
France appeared to gain an advantage when it refused Wales' request to close the Millennium Stadium roof against the heavy Cardiff rain, but the home side weathered the conditions and the opposition.
Alex Cuthbert illuminated a frustrating encounter with a moment of class midway through the first half.
Wales worked the ball to Cuthbert from a turnover and the giant wing shimmied inside, outside and inside again to beat three men and go over the line.
England's defense of its title ended with second place after its overhauled side powered to a 30-9 win over Ireland, which finished third. Scotland finished last after losing 13-6 to Italy.
France displayed resolute defense and only belatedly showed any ambition to carry the game to Wales, which emerged a worthy winner through Cuthbert's brilliance and 11 points from the boot of fullback Leigh Halfpenny.
Inconsistency has been Wales' most reliable characteristic in recent seasons, with Grand Slams in 2005 and 2008 followed by fifth- and sixth-place finishes. With coach Warren Gatland contracted until 2015, Wales will hope this latest triumph lays the platform for a period of dominance similar to that enjoyed from 1969-79.
In that period, Wales won the old Five Nations seven times - including three Grand Slams - and shared the title twice more, losing only seven matches in 11 years and not a single one at home.
"We're quite a young team so this is the first chance for a lot of us to win anything," flanker Dan Lydiate said. "We're over the moon."
Lydiate's work at the breakdown and covering defense, Cuthbert's tackle-busting surges on the flanks and in midfield, and scrumhalf Mike Phillips' composure were instrumental in Wales' 11th Grand Slam - one short of England's record mark.
Wales props Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones and substitute back-rower Ryan Jones are the only three Wales players to have played in all three of the most recent Grand Slam-winning teams. And the trio all played important roles Saturday.
Jenkins and Adam Jones formed the foundation of a superior scrum and Ryan Jones, who captained the 2008 team, helped repel the resurgent French in the second half, having replaced captain Sam Warburton at the interval.
Wales also avenged its semifinal loss to France at the 2011 Rugby World Cup when Warburton was sent off for a dangerous tackle.