This time there was to be no Dragons resurrection, this time Les Bleus would not blow out of puff. Inspired by a defence that had Shaun Edwards written all over it, the young French revolutionaries kept their Grand Slam dreams alive in a pulsating encounter that gripped from start to finish.

As Edwards promised, he did not celebrate, but inside he must have been boiling over with pride. France burst into their customary early lead against the Welsh but proved their new-found mettle by holding out when the red tide seemed unstoppable. The Principality Stadium has seen this before – the Edwards defensive system made him an honorary Welshman after all.

However, he came back to haunt the Welsh Rugby Union officials who believed it was wise only to offer him a two-year contract to remain, compared to the four years he accepted across the channel. France made 106 tackles in the first half alone.

That makes it two defeats in three Six Nations games for Wayne Pivac and it is fair to say, after Wales's first Six Nations home defeat in three years, that his honeymoon as Warren Gatland's successor is well and truly over.

Advertisement

They went in with 859 caps, the most ever to take the field in the Championship, but when they needed it most experience was not enough. Gatland's men possessed a resilience and a steel that has suddenly gone missing.

Wales have two games to pick some respectability out of the rubble, but there is no silverware to play for and as the reigning champions they were expecting so much more. In contrast, France go to Scotland with the title in sight. They are well aware that the last time they won a Six Nations encounter in Cardiff was in 2010. And that was the last time they won the Grand Slam.

Wales have become well accustomed to conceding early ground to France, having been 16-0 to the bad at half time in this match a year ago and then 12-0 down in the quarter-final of the World Cup four months ago. A fine Dan Biggar penalty from just inside the opposing half actually gave the Welsh the early advantage but it was a short-lived superiority.

A scuffle breaks out after the final whistle of the Six Nations clash between Wales and France. Photo / Getty Images
A scuffle breaks out after the final whistle of the Six Nations clash between Wales and France. Photo / Getty Images

In the seventh minute, man-of-the-match Romain Ntamack sent the ball skywards before Leigh Halfpenny made a rare defensive error in spilling the catch. No doubt that was a lot of bon chance with the bounce falling obligingly into the hands of Anthony Bouthier, but so the full-back scampered gleefully to score his first international try.

Wales were behind again, but four minutes later any foreboding was transformed into deep concern. George North went up for a Biggar cross-kick, but as Gael Fickou challenged, the wing's shoulder unwittingly caught North squarely in the jaw.

The 27-year-old was out before he hit the ground and although he regained consciousness within a few seconds, his evening's work was clearly over. In fact, the HIA was completely unnecessary; absurd in fact. Certainly Johnny McNicholl would have known he was no temporary replacement.

Of course, the questions will now swirl about North's future as a professional rugby player. And so they should for a 27-year-old who has an alarming history of concussions.

Ntamack and Biggar traded penalties, but it was plain that the visitors were in charge. France believed they had extended their lead when Fickou this time collecting Ntamack's cross kick to score. However, the TMO ruled it out because of a forward pass earlier in the move. No matter, within a few minutes lock Paul Willemse was storming across the whitewash and Wales were staring up a Gallic mountain again.

Advertisement

Another Biggar penalty made a start to the ascent but they will long wonder how they did not manage to touch down following the yellow card shown to No 8 Gregory Alldritt. Wales eschewed the three points to go for a try which was never to prevail. Within five minutes of the restart, Alldritt was back on with the scoreboard unaltered.

Wales did eventually crash over, with tighthead Dillon Lewis applying the necessaries. There was a point in it and as they say in France, it was like deja vu all over again. Except it not nearly so easy as all that. Ntamack, who is looking more and more like the finished article, made a dramatic intervention when intercepting Nick Tompkins' pass, to run the 60 yards between the sticks.

Wales forward Ken Owens reacts as Frenchman Romain Ntamack races away to score his side's third try. Photo / Getty Images
Wales forward Ken Owens reacts as Frenchman Romain Ntamack races away to score his side's third try. Photo / Getty Images

Another Ntamack penalty gave the French an 11-point cushion going into the final 15 minutes and then came the encounter's most controversial moment. Wales were again hammering away in the 22, when Ken Owens sought to put in Josh Adams in the corner. Yet as the pass made its seemingly inexorable way to the wing, Willemse stuck out his hand.

It was blatantly a deliberate knock-on and might have warranted a penalty try and a yellow card. Yet somehow between them, referee Matthew Carley – adjudicating just his Six Nations game – and his assistants and TMO saw it as nothing more than a Welsh scrum.

A few minutes later, Carley felt obliged to send the tighthead Mohamed Haouas to the sin bin after a series of scrum penalties, but again Wales's focused failed them and the French were allowed to escape with a penalty in the shadow of their posts.

It was exhilarating fare and when, in the 74th minute, Biggar touched down after a glorious passage featuring Aaron Wainwright and Will Rowlands – the 28-year-old making his debut – in full gazelle mode the contest was given the finale it deserved. Five minutes to go, four in it and when Tompkins broke through with the seconds counting down, another audacious comeback was on. But, as they had all night, the French rearguard held strong. Plus ca change? Not a bit of it.