France continued on the Grand Slam trail with a hard-fought win over Wales at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff.
Imanol Harinordoquy’s try on the stroke of half-time gave the visitors control, and scrum-half Jean Baptiste Elissalde stole the show with 24 points.
Wales’ weakness at the scrum proved their Achilles heel, with a lost ball in the 56th minute coming to Elissalde who raced in for the clinching 60m try.
Martyn Williams got a late consolation try for Wales, but it was not enough.
There were early signs of adventure from both sides as Wales started with far more fire than in their last outing in Dublin.
But all there was to show for the opening quarter were two penalties apiece for Elissalde and Stephen Jones, one of the latter’s a 50m monster.
With Michael Owen and Colin Charvis leading the Welsh forward effort the pressure on the visitors increased, as did the penalty count.
Jones took advantage to land two more shots at goal, the second taking him clear of Paul Thorburn as Wales’ second-highest points scorer of all time.
With the line-outs proving a lottery, France began to get the upper hand at the scrum, helping them to gain field position in the Welsh half.
The home defence held firm until the last move of the first half when Frederic Michalak made his first telling contribution.
The fly-half cleverly switched a France attack to the blindside, feeding Vincent Clerc who stepped Gareth Cooper before delivering the scoring pass to Harinordoquy wide on the right.
Elissalde’s fine conversion gave the visitors a one-point lead at the break and they continued the assault early in the second period, profiting from two more penalties by the scrum-half.
Wales weathered the storm and Jones’ fifth penalty edged them back into contention, but their scrum weakness led to disaster.
Welsh attacking ball was disrupted, Serge Betsen pounced on the loose possession and fed Elissalde with a suspiciously forward pass for the scrum-half to sprint home.
The home side had one chance to get back in the game with a penalty under the posts, from which they chose to scrummage.
Another out-of-control scrum gave Elissalde the chance to steal the ball from makeshift-flanker Gareth Thomas and clear comfortably.
The French had their afternoon somewhat spoiled by seeing Elissalde limp off with a hamstring strain, and witnessing a late Welsh fightback.
With three minutes to go, Jones and Ceri Sweeney linked well to send replacement flanker Williams under the posts.
The conversion brought Wales to within seven points, but a furious late attack was held out by Les Bleus.
Thomas (Warriors), Williams (Blues), Taylor (Scarlets), Harris (Blues), Williams (Ospreys), Jones (Scarlets), Cooper (Warriors), Thomas (Scarlets), Davies (Warriors), Jenkins (Warriors), Cockbain (Warriors), Owen (Dragons), Thomas (Ospreys), Charvis (Tarbes, capt), Jones (Scarlets).
Bennett (Ospreys), Evans (Blues), Llewellyn (Ospreys), Williams (Blues), Peel (Scarlets), Sweeney (Warriors), Shanklin (Blues).
Brusque (Biarritz), Clerc (Stade Toulousain), Traille (Pau), Jauzion (Stade Toulousain), Dominici (Stade Francais), Michalak (Stade Toulousain), Elissalde (Stade Toulousain); Marconnet (Stade Francais), Servat (Stade Toulousain), Villiers (Stade Francais), Pelous (Stade Toulousain, capt), Pape (Bourgoin), Betsen (Biarritz), Harinordoquy (Pau), Lievremont (Biarritz).
Bru (Stade Toulousain), Crenca (Agen), Auradou (Stade Francais), Magne (Montferrand), Yachvili (Biarritz), Rougerie (Montferrand), Heymans (Stade Toulousain).