France down and out as Wales keep hopes alive

France were left with their Six Nations challenge in tatters after Wales triumphed 20-13 at the Stade de France on Saturday.

France down and out as Wales keep hopes alive
Photo: Martin Bureau/AFP

It was their second successive win in Paris and means they are still in the mix for overall Six Nations glory, despite having lost to England in their opening match.

"We have a good record against France," Wales coach Warren Gatland told the BBC. "I thought the forwards were sensational. We scrummaged well, the line-out was good and I thought we deserved to win.

"The next game is massive against Ireland at home and hopefully we will play Italy on the final day with the championship alive."

For France, who were loudly jeered at the final whistle, it was yet another disappointing performance and leaves their Six Nations hopes in tatters after a second straight loss.

They will do well to beat last year's fourth-placed finish at this rate, particularly with trips to Rome and Twickenham to come.

Gatland had restored George North to his starting line-up but it veryn quickly became clear that Jamie Roberts was the key man for the visitors.

With France coach Philippe Saint-Andre leaving Mathieu Bastareaud on the bench, Wales targeted the midfield with Roberts crashing over the gain line time and again.

Wales went in front from a Leigh Halfpenny penalty after Romain Taofifenua was pinged for going to ground at the breakdown.

France responded with some long-forgotten flair but Yoann Huget couldn't control Camille Lopez's cross-kick.

Remi Lamerat went off with a hamstring problem and the barrel-chested Bastareaud joined the fray after just 18 minutes, just as Lopez kicked France level after Wales went offside.

Lopez missed a long-range penalty and Halfpenny restored Wales's lead after France were penalised for not releasing after a tackle.

That seemed to spark France into life, though, and a miss-pass from Lopez put Huget in space on the wing, the Toulouse man cutting inside Halfpenny's tackle to dive over.

The crowd went wild but South African referee Jaco Peyper had spotted the pass was forward and the try was rightly refused.

France should have gone into half-time level but Lopez badly missed a very kickable penalty.

In an uninspiring first half, France had made 77 tackles to Wales's 22 yet still came far closer to scoring a try.

France changed kicker at the start of then second half but Morgan Parra fared no better, missing his first penalty attempt.

Wesley Fofana made a scything break down the left to take France deep inside the Welsh 22 but they couldn't maintain the pressure as Guilhem Guirado was penalized for providing a screen for Bastareaud.

France were starting to find some self-confidence, though, and Brice Dulin was just a fraction off collecting a Lopez chip inside the Wales 22.

The pressure paid off and with kicking duties restored to him, Lopez notched a penalty from right in front of the posts.

Curiously, Saint-Andre picked that moment to make a raft of substitutions and France lost their momentum.

Within minutes Wales were back in front as Halfpenny kicked his third penalty.

The tide seemed to have turned and Dan Biggar was unlucky to hit the post with a drop-goal attempt as Wales camped in French territory.

They made their pressure count, though, as Rhys Webb sold a dummy to Taofifenua before Dan Lydiate's delightful no-look offload allowed Biggar to sprint into the corner.

Although Halfpenny missed the extras, he then landed a penalty as Wales stretched their lead out to 17-6.

But, after 10 minutes of total Welsh domination, France did manage to get back on the front foot and Dulin slid over in the corner with Lopez landing the difficult conversion from right out on the touchline.

Yet almost immediately, the hosts gave Wales a kickable penalty and Halfpenny didn't miss, leaving the visitors 20-13 ahead with seven minutes left.

They had one last chance after kicking a penalty to the corner but with space out wide, Dulin cut inside into traffic and Wales smothered any chance France had a snatching a late draw.


French rugby in turmoil as FFR boss gets suspended sentence over corruption

Lawyers for FFR President Bernard Laporte said he was going to appeal against the court's verdict

French rugby in turmoil as FFR boss gets suspended sentence over corruption

French rugby was reeling Tuesday after the president of the country’s governing body Bernard Laporte was handed a two-year suspended prison sentence on corruption charges nine months before France hosts the game’s World Cup.

Fédération Française de Rugby (FFR) president Laporte, 58, was convicted after a French court ruled he showed favouritism in awarding a shirt sponsorship contract for the national side to Mohed Altrad, the billionaire owner of Top 14 champions Montpellier. He was also banned from holding any rugby post for two years. Both are suspended pending an appeal, which Laporte’s lawyer said was imminent.

Laporte later stepped down from his role as vice-chairman of the sport’s global governing body, World Rugby, pending a review by the body’s ethics officer.

“World Rugby notes the decision by World Rugby vice-chairman Bernard Laporte to self-suspend from all positions held within its governance structures with immediate effect following his conviction by the French court in relation to domestic matters, and pending his appeal,” World Rugby said.

“While acknowledging Laporte’s self-suspension and right of appeal, given the serious nature of the verdict World Rugby’s Executive Committee has referred the matter to its independent ethics officer for review in accordance with its integrity code,” it added.

Resignation call
Laporte faces problems on the domestic front, too, with Florian Grill, who narrowly lost to him in the 2020 election for federation chief, calling for Laporte and the entire board to stand down.

“It is unheard of in rugby, this is an earthquake,” Grill told AFP. “We have never before seen a president of the federation condemned to two
years in prison, even if it suspended.

“We think the 40 members of the board of directors should draw the obvious conclusions and resign.”

French Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera said the sentence was an “obstacle for Bernard Laporte to be able, as it stands, to continue his mission in good conditions” as federation president, and called for a “new democratic era to allow French rugby to rebound as quickly as possible and sufficiently healthy and solid, with a governance by the federation that will have the full confidence of the clubs”.

The court found that Laporte ensured a series of marketing decisions favourable to Altrad – who was given an 18-month suspended sentence and
€50,000 euro — in exchange for a €180,000 image licensing contract that was never actually carried out.

Altrad’s lawyer said he would study the decision before deciding on whether to appeal.

At the trial’s close in September, prosecutors said they were seeking a three-year prison sentence for Laporte, of which he should serve one behind bars, and the two others on probation.

The friendship and business links between Laporte and Altrad are at the heart of the case.

It goes back to February 2017, when they signed a deal under which Laporte agreed to appear at Altrad group conferences, and sold his image reproduction rights, in return for €180,000.

But while that sum was  paid to Laporte, prosecutors claim that he neveractually provided the services he signed up for.

Laporte did, however, make several public statements backing Altrad and, in March 2017, signed the €1.8 million deal with the businessman making his namesake firm the first-ever sponsor to appear on the French national team’s jerseys.

The Altrad name and logo still features on the shirts thanks to a follow-up deal negotiated by Laporte in 2018 and which prosecutors say bears all the hallmarks of corruption. It is also on the All Blacks’ national squads’ shirts, and New Zealand Rugby is reportedly seeking an urgent meeting with company officials following the court ruling.

Laporte, formerly a highly successful coach who guided France twice to the World Cup semi-finals (2003 and 2007), was also found guilty of favouritism
with regards to Altrad’s Montpellier Herault Rugby (MHR) club.

He was convicted for intervening with French rugby’s federal disciplinary commission to reduce a fine against the club from €70,000 to €20,000 after several telephone calls from Laporte.

While prosecutors saw this and several more incidents as proof of illicit favouritism, Laporte himself had claimed there was no “cause-effect relationship”.

On the last day of the trial in October, Laporte’s lawyer Fanny Colin accused the prosecution of “confirmation bias” by “taking into account only elements backing their original assumptions”.

The verdict comes only nine months before the Rugby World Cup kicks off in France on September 8, 2023, with matches played in nine stadiums across the country.