Six Nations 2015: Wales' French exiles central to Paris win

By Dafydd PritchardBBC Wales Sport in Paris
Wales players celebrate victory over France
Wales sealed a fourth successive win over France for the first time since 1957

With the final whistle came emotional outpouring. Ecstasy, exhaustion, relief.

Such are the brutal demands of international rugby, it was to be expected - but there was a difference about Leigh Halfpenny's reaction in Paris.

The Wales full-back is usually unflappable, a kicking metronome unmoved by the maelstrom around him.

But after helping his side seal a precious 20-13 win against France in the Six Nations, the Toulon man burst into tears as he greeted his partner in the crowd.

It was a telling display of emotion from one of the four France-based players in the Wales team, a quartet for whom victory at the Stade de France was particularly significant.

"It obviously means an awful lot to these guys when they are playing here week-in, week-out," Wales head coach Warren Gatland said.

"I think for a lot of the Welsh players playing over here it was probably as much them wanting to prove their worth and value and the reason why they are over here.

"In terms of self-motivation, there was that wanting to perform, because you are not just performing for the Welsh public and their expectations but also the French clubs and I thought a lot of them did a job."

Wales' inspirational insiders

Halfpenny, Luke Charteris, Jonathan Davies and Jamie Roberts contributed to a resolute, professional team performance which kept intact Welsh hopes of winning a fifth Six Nations title in 11 seasons.

Yet for these four - as well as replacement scrum-half Mike Phillips and his former Racing Metro team-mate Dan Lydiate - this victory had added meaning.

Leigh Halfpenny
Toulon's Leigh Halfpenny kicked 15 points in Wales' 20-13 win over France

It was not long ago that the exodus of Welsh players to France seemed like a terminal talent drain.

There has been something of a momentum swing recently, however, with players such as Lydiate moving back to Wales and the likes of Roberts possibly edging closer to a return.

Roberts was coy about his future after the game, throughout which the Racing colossus carried the ball with thunderous strength.

Gatland is absolute in his view - he wants all the players living in France to come back to Wales.

The trouble with the Top 14

The New Zealander has often said he needs extended periods of time with his squad to condition players and fine-tune tactics.

It is an issue which struck a chord after the match in Paris, with France head coach Philippe Saint-Andre bemoaning the structure of French rugby, heavily implying the Top 14's foreign influx and busy schedule had hampered the national side.

Although the competition's lavish wealth has brought domestic and European success to its clubs, Saint-Andre's frustration with the Top 14 is that it denies him the kind of access to players he has seen granted to Gatland and other Six Nations coaches.

"We have always said we get better as a team with time together and that's always the challenge of international rugby, when you get the team for six to eight weeks and then they are away for three months," Gatland said.

"You feel like you take two steps forward and then one step back and you've got to start again.

Wales hold nerve to beat France

"Even as coaches, we still make mistakes when players come back into our environment. We sometimes think we are a bit more forward than we are."

With the World Cup looming in September and October, Gatland can look forward to a sustained spell in the summer with his squad, while Saint-Andre will watch anxiously as the Top 14 eventually reaches its end in mid-June.

There is a distinct possibility Halfpenny and his Toulon team-mates will be in the Top 14 final to defend their crown, and there could be added Welsh representation if Clermont or Racing are there.

If Gatland's wish is granted, however, they would be back on home soil, under the head coach's watchful gaze as he plots future success.

Having secured a fourth successive win against France, that success could include this year's Six Nations title.

"From this campaign we have learned something," Gatland said.

"From the second half against England, there was a step up against Scotland, a step up here [Paris] and a massive game for us at home against Ireland and potentially we are still in the championship with all to play for in that last weekend."

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