Cardiff, Wales: George North's comical try and a robust defensive display steered Wales to a 19-10 win over France in the Six Nations on Friday in a low-quality match that has been the theme of the competition so far.
An attritional game swung on a decisive three-minute period early in the second half when Wales scored 10 points to push into a 16-3 lead. That haul included the 46th-minute try from North, who swiped at thin air near the line as he attempted to kick the ball on — only to receive it moments later when retreating France flyhalf Jules Plisson inadvertently booted the ball back into the winger's path.
"George came up to me and said 'I'm definitely not going to be a footballer,'" Wales captain Sam Warburton said. "There's been a bit of mickey-taking in the changing room."
It was the pivotal score, however, helping Wales secure a fifth straight win over the French to stay unbeaten and on course for the Six Nations title. Flyhalf Dan Biggar kicked the rest of the team's points, with four penalties and a conversion.
With two victories and a draw, Wales heads to England in two weeks for what could be a virtual title decider. Wales beat its old foe at Twickenham during the Rugby World Cup last year, so won't be short of confidence.
It was France's first defeat under recently hired coach Guy Noves, puncturing some of the optimism that had built up after narrow wins against Italy and Ireland to open the tournament. The visitors struggled to show any of the trademark flair that Noves is looking to restore to the national team and their attacks were mostly predictable.
The Welsh defence was outstanding, though, only breached by France captain Guilhem Guirado for a consolation try off a rolling maul in the 79th minute. France was camped on Wales' tryline between the 51st and 63rd minutes but came away with no points in that tense spell.
"That was a big turning point in the match," Noves said, "not being able to score in that period."
This was another disappointing game in a Six Nations tournament that has so far offered few moments of brilliance, months after the northern hemisphere failed for the first time to get a team into the Rugby World Cup semifinals.
"Teams are so good and organised defensively, it's only players missing a tackle or a system error that concedes a try," Wales coach Warren Gatland said. "It's just the way the game is at the moment."
On the trip to England, Gatland added: "We have to have the confidence and belief that we are able to (win). Victory today keeps us in the championship. If we lost, we'd be out of it."
Wales should have held a bigger lead than just three points at halftime, having had sustained pressure through its forwards in the opening half hour without creating a notable try-scoring chance.
Biggar kicked penalties in the 22nd and 30th minutes, after missing a simple early kick at goal, but France went into halftime in touch thanks to Plisson's penalty following a no-arms tackle by recalled flanker Dan Lydiate just before halftime.
The three minutes at the start of the second half killed off France's chances.
After a third penalty from Biggar in the 43rd, Wales grabbed the crucial try in ultimately farcical circumstances. Off turnover ball, centre Jonathan Davies hacked ahead and North sped down the left wing to reach the ball first. He attempted to nudge it on for a simple grounding over the line but missed the ball, only for the covering Plisson to make a hash of his attempted clear-up. North gleefully picked up and barged his way over.
France responded with 12 minutes of solid pressure near Wales' tryline that didn't yield a point. And to rub it in, Wales regrouped and Biggar booted a penalty from nearly halfway for 19-3.
The game was played with the Principality Stadium roof open, after a technical fault prevented it from closing.
A win at Twickenham would see Wales go to the brink of a fourth Six Nations title under Gatland since he took charge in 2008. Italy is last up for the Welsh.