There was drama to the dying seconds at the Millennium Stadium as Wales zalmost came back from the dead to steal victory.
Twice Welsh players crossed the French line in injury time as they went for the kill, but on both occasions the Italian video referee Claudio Giacomel ruled 'no try'.
It was the Welsh skipper Scott Quinnell who thundered over after taking the ball over the back of a French line-out five metres from their line.
He drove throgh two tacklers, but Serge Betsen somehow managed to get a hand underneath the ball to deny Wales a try in the 82nd minute.
But the home side, showing the sort of fire and passion their supporters were hoping for after their massacre in Dublin, put in one final effort to release James on the left.
The Bridgend wing, who finished the game at centre, went for the corner, but was superbly tackled by Aurelien Rougerie. James got the ball over the line, but Rougerie had dragged him into touch just before he was able to touch down for what would have been the vital winning score.
Wales started like an express train and after Stephen Jones and Damien Traille had swapped penalties, Craig Quinnell drove through Gerald Merceron and Tony Marsh for a try after 10 minutes.
Jones added the conversion and it was all Wales for the opening quarter.
But the French kept their cool, gained control up front and worked themselves into the lead with a Merceron penalty and corner try by Tony Marsh.
That Marsh try came after some great approach work by both French props, Pieter De Villiers and Jean-Jacques Crenca, and the Kiwi-born centre wasn't finsihed with Wales.
Two more penalties from Jones to one from Merceron kept Wales 16-14 ahead, but Marsh sped over again for a try which Merceron converted to edge the French ahead four minutes before the break.
Jones cut the gap to two points with a fourth penalty before Wales had a catastrophic 10 minutes. Skipper Scott Quinnell was given a yellow card by Irish referee Dave McHugh after clattering into Nicolas Brusque after the French full back had kicked ahead and Merceron made it 24-19 to the visitors at the interval with his third penalty.
Then, two minutes into the second half, Traille kicked ahead for Rougerie to chase close to the Welsh line and he dived with Welsh full back Kevin Morgan for the ball.
Morgan came up with the ball, but McHugh went to the video referee and the Italian arbiter gave the try to France.
Merceron converted and then kicked a penalty to open up a 15 point gap before the Welsh skipper returned to the field.
Quinnell's return made a huge difference to the Welsh team and they got back into the game after 58 minutes when back row man Nathan Budgett crossed for a try after some neat approach work from Andy Marinos.
Jones converted, but with 10 minutes to play Merceron kicked his fifth penalty to make the Welsh task all the more difficult.
Full back Morgan was then given the benefit of the doubt by the video referee when he dived for the line with a French defender two minutes from time and Jones' conversion from a wide angle set up a thrilling final eight minutes.
Wales tried, but failed - and France move on face England in Paris in round three of the Lloyds TSB Six Nations Championship with two wins under their belt.
Scorers: Wales: Tries: Craig Quinnell, Nathan Budgett, Kevin Morgan; Cons: Stephen Jones 3; Pens: Stephen Jones 4.
Angus O'Brien has quickly settled into the Wales Sevens squad after solid performances in Hong Kong and Japan. With two rounds remaining in Glasgow and Twickenham on the World Series, WRU TV's Graeme Gillespie chats to the rising star.
Wales winger Luke Morgan has established himself as one of the deadliest finishers on the Sevens World Series. WRU TV's Graeme Gillespie catches up with him on the eve of this weekend's round in Glasgow.
All roads lead to Cardiff on Sunday for the SSE SWALEC Finals Day at the Millennium Stadium. Cambrian Welfare tackle Ystradgynlais in the Bowl final, Ystrad Rhondda play Newcastle Emlyn in the Plate final while defending champions Pontypridd face Bridgend in the Cup final.
WRU Chief Executive Roger Lewis, Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism Ken Skates and WRU Chairman Gareth Davies earlier this week launched a new competition in conjunction with the WRU unveiling its archive room.
Welsh players and management joined Deputy Minister for Sport Ken Skates at the Pierhead Building, Cardiff Bay earlier this week to reveal the Union's pioneering school-club hub initiative has been so successful the project will now almost double the scale of the original project.
The Scarlets, Newport Gwent Dragons, Cardiff Blues and the Ospreys look ahead to Judgement Day III which sees the Blues take on the Ospreys (2.30) and the Dragons tackle the Scarlets (4.45pm) at the Millennium Stadium tomorrow afternoon.
Ystradgynlais and Ynysddu played out a titanic struggle at Taffs Well in the SSE SWALEC Bowl semi-final. At the end of the game neither team could be separated after a 15-15 stalemate but Ystradgynlais go through on try count.
Blues strike first in JD III battle - Newport Gwent Dragons lock Andrew Coombs, WRU referee Dylan Llyr Jones and Cardiff Blues hooker Matthew Rees decide dressing room allocations for Judgement Day III
Wales Under 18 captain Calum Haggett has received a conditional offer to read Biomedical Science at St Anne's College, Oxford. WRU chairman Gareth Davies went to meet Calum and Coleg y Cymoedd Principal Judith Evans to wish him luck in his exams and pass on some of his personal experience.