CARDIFF (AFP) – The Six Nations is a tournament that deserves praise for being ultra-competitive, Warren Gatland said after overseeing his side to a narrow victory over France that saw them finish second in the championship.
In a hard-fought encounter at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium, Wales beat the French 14-13, thanks to three first-half Leigh Halfpenny penalties and a Liam Williams try.
Jacques Brunel’s French XV responded with a Francois Trinh-Duc drop-goal and a converted Gael Fickou try, Maxime Machenaud’s sole penalty the only score of the second half.
The result saw Wales finish second behind Grand Slam winners Ireland, with Scotland in third after beating Italy, France fourth ahead of England in fifth and winless Italy left with the wooden spoon.
“The great thing about this competition at the moment is how close it is, how tough it is to win,” said Gatland.
“It’s been a very competitive year and there’s been some great rugby. It’s brilliant for this competition.
“It’s a massive positive for the Six Nations as a tournament and the countries competing.”
Gatland, who coached Ireland between 1998-2001, added: “Congratulations to Ireland on the Grand Slam, it’s fantastic and they deserve that, but they’ll know they were a little bit lucky as well.
“In that first game against France, the drop-goal by Jonny Sexton completely changes everything.”
That last-gasp drop-goal saw the Irish beat France 15-13 for a rare away win to set them on course for five from five victories, rounded off by the 24-15 win over England on Saturday.
Cardiff’s match was equally tight, heavy on defence and light on quality attack.
“I’m extremely satisfied,” Gatland said of the result. “It was an ugly performance in terms of it wasn’t pretty, but we spoke beforehand that we just came here to do a job and the job was just to win and finish second in this competition.
“I thought defensively the boys showed some great character out there particularly in the second half in what we knew would be a tough, close game and they’re a good French team.
“Today wasn’t about the performance it was about the result.”
Brunel acknowledged that the competition was a mixed bag for France.
“Yes, there’s disappointment among the players and coaches because once again it’s a match we could have won,” he said.
“At the start of the tournament, people said we were very distant from the big nations. But we showed we were very close.
“I said the tournament would hold some surprises. Who would have bet on England finishing fifth? That we could have beaten Ireland and won in Wales?
“We had the ambition to get closer to the best and we did that.”