Wales backrower Martyn Williams scored two tries as Mike Ruddock's men stormed back from 15-3 down against France to keep their Grand Slam hopes alive in Paris on Saturday night. Outside-half Stephen Jones had one of his best games in the red jersey to kick the crucial goals and a brave Welsh defence kept a desperate French side at bay in the dying minutes.
The win thrusts Wales to the top of the Six Nations table, with the only bad news being a thumb injury to inspirational skipper Gareth Thomas which will see him miss the rest of the Six Nations tournament.
It didn't go to plan in the opening spell, though. The Welsh scrum was under immediate pressure, and a third-minute turnover had disastrous results. The French ran the unexpected ball and Dimitri Yachvili found acres of space around the fringes to scamper over for the game's opening try. The little scrum-half slotted the simple conversion and Wales' proud defensive record in recent matches was in tatters.
A break from much-criticised outside-half Yann Delaigue gave huge winger Aurelien Rougerie the space to plough through opposite number Shane Williams and score in the corner. A stunned Wales simply couldn't get their hands on the ball - or at least keep their hands on it - as regular turnovers gave France all the possession they needed to show why they are one of the most feared teams in the world.
If the home side had converted only a third of their scoring chances, Wales would have been out of it by the 20-minute mark. As it was, Stephen Jones ignored the boos to slot a 40-metre penalty goal, which was immediately cancelled out by a closer shot from Yachvili. Williams was clear before being called back for a forward pass and opposite number Yannick Nyanga was also heading for the try-line before the linesman put his flag up.
Huge hits were coming in from both sides, with Wales props Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones making their presence felt in the midfield. Unfortunately, too many Welsh forwards were out there during attacking moves and they all broke down through poor handling. Rougerie had a field day against the diminutive Williams, brushing him aside at will, and debutant fullback Julien Laharrague was causing chaos every time he entered the line.
Jones ended the half with another well-struck goal, and Wales had limited the damage to 15-6 at the halfway mark.
Thomas didn't emerge from the tunnel after the break, but it didn't seem to affect his side as they roared back into the match. A Stephen Jones break set up a perfect position for the ball to be spun wide to Shane Williams, who drew the final defender and slipped the try-scoring pass to namesake Martyn. Jones added the conversion and suddenly it was game on.
Wales poured back on to the attack and earned a penalty metres from the French try-line. Martyn Williams took the quick tap and dove over for his second try in as many minutes to give his side the lead and silence the hostile crowd.
Replacement outside-half Frederic Michalak dropped a goal to level the scores at 18-all before Jones' third penalty goal split the teams. Jones extended the lead to six points with a dropped goal of his own, but France powered back on to the attack. They went close as the Welsh scrum collapsed on its try-line three times, but replacement scrum-half Gareth Cooper got his boot to the ball and the danger was averted.
It was all France as the clock ticked down, but Wales held on for a famous victory.
France: Tries - D Yachvili, A Rougerie; Pen - D Yachvili; DG - F Michalak; Con - D Yachvili
Wales: Tries - M Williams 2; Pens - S Jones 3; DG - S Jones; Con - S Jones
Halftime: France 15-6 Referee: Paul Honiss (New Zealand) Crowd: 80,000