PARIS, February 28 – Wales coach Warren Gatland blamed a lack of hunger after seeing his side's dreams of back-to-back Six Nations Grand Slams crushed in a 21-16 defeat to France here on Friday night.
Reigning champions Wales took to the field looking for a record ninth consecutive victory in the tournament but they were undone by a French performance that grew in tenacity as the match wore on.
Marc Lievremont’s men were under pressure after losing their opening game to Ireland and then winning unconvincingly against Scotland, and Gatland felt their will to win was the difference between the sides here.
"They were a bit more desperate than we were," he said. "They’ve been under a lot of pressure and sometimes that galvanises a team and brings the best out of you."
Gatland was also dismayed at the manner in which his side tamely conceded their advantage in the moments before half-time.
"At 13-3 up, we needed to be a bit smarter and hang on until half-time, but we gave away three points and then made four mistakes in a row to concede the try and that’s probably where the game was won and lost."
Lievremont made five changes to the French team that beat Scotland, selecting Clermont centre Benoit Baby to play at fly-half and handing the kicking responsibilities to 20-year-old Bourgoin scrum-half Morgan Parra.
Parra responded by kicking 11 points, while also sending two kicks against the posts, and Wales defence coach Shaun Edwards felt the French XV played like a team with a point to prove.
"A team that’s been under a lot of pressure from their own media often respond on their own territory," he said.
"Due credit to the French though, they came out with a game-plan which they executed very well and we came up with too many errors."
Gatland also expressed his dismay at Wales’s inability to keep basic mistakes out of their game.
"Our back three have made eight mistakes between them and you can’t legislate for that because they’ve gone through games before without making any mistakes at all," he said.
Wing Leigh Halfpenny is one member of that back three, and the Cardiff Blues youngster conceded that the intensity of France’s play had forced Wales onto the back foot.
"We knew they were going to bring it at us physically and try to bully us, and at times we let them do that," he said.
"They put us under a lot of pressure, but at times we put ourselves under pressure by making silly errors."
Despite the defeat, France’s opening defeat at Ireland means Wales are still in with a strong chance of retaining their Six Nations crown if they win their final two matches against Italy and Ireland."
"We’re disappointed but the challenge to the side now is how we respond to that disappointment," Gatland said adding, "If we get a good result against Italy it’ll be all to play for in the last game against Ireland. Sometimes you need a bit of a kick in the arse to see how you respond to it."