Johnny Sexton's omission from the British and Irish Lions squad was one of Warren Gatland's "toughest decisions", the coach has admitted.

Ireland legend Sexton, the 2018 World Rugby Player of the Year, was one of the surprise exclusions from Gatland's 37-man selection for the upcoming tour of South Africa.

Sexton misses out despite the fly-half playing a key role on the 2017 trip to New Zealand, with Gatland expressing some concerns over the 35-year-old's "durability" and instead calling up Dan Biggar, Owen Farrell and Finn Russell.

"There's no doubt that that was one of the toughest decisions that we had to make," said Gatland at a news conference on Thursday.

"I've got a huge amount of respect for Johnny and his quality, but it's such a pivotal position for us and it's about sending a message to the 10s that we have selected that we have the confidence and belief in them to do a job.

"When we looked at where we were going in South Africa probably the thing that kept coming back to us was Johnny's durability, being able to put a string of matches together consecutively, and big matches.

"He has been rested on a number of occasions and unfortunately that's possibly what swayed it for us in terms of us not having the confidence that he can get through what's going to be a tough, physical tour."

Billy Vunipola was also a notable absentee from the list, while other big calls saw Wales centre Jonathan Davies, England prop Kyle Sinckler and Ireland second row James Ryan left out.

However, Gatland did find room for Exeter Chiefs number eight Sam Simmonds, who has not played a Test for England since March 2018.

The Lions will face the Springboks in Tests on July 24, July 31 and August 7.

Alun Wyn Jones has been named captain of the British and Irish Lions for their tour of South Africa, leading a 37-man squad.

Warren Gatland announced his selection on Thursday ahead of the trip in July, which follows a warm-up against Japan next month.

Wales great Jones has been chosen for the leadership role having featured in the past nine Lions Tests going back to 2009, the longest run in the professional era.

Jones has already skippered the side once previously in the absence of the injured Sam Warburton in Australia eight years ago, clinching a first series win since 1997.

Elsewhere in Gatland's squad, Ireland's former World Rugby Player of the Year Johnny Sexton misses out despite playing a key role on the 2017 trip to New Zealand.

Billy Vunipola was also a notable absentee from the list, while other big calls saw Wales centre Jonathan Davies, England prop Kyle Sinckler and Ireland second row James Ryan excluded.

However, Gatland did find room for Exeter Chiefs number eight Sam Simmonds, who has not played a Test for England since March 2018.

"We believe we've picked a squad capable of winning a Test series in South Africa," Gatland - who opted for 11 Englishmen, 10 Welshmen and eight apiece from Ireland and Scotland - said following the squad announcement.

"Selecting a Lions squad is never easy and, in many ways, this has been the most challenging selection I have been involved in.

"Over the course of the last three weeks the coaches and I have rigorously debated each position.

"We saw some outstanding performances in the recent Six Nations, so competition for places has been tough with some incredibly tight calls to make. 

"However, we are very happy with the squad we have assembled and look forward to meeting up in Jersey in just over a month's time to start our preparation to take on the world champions.

"We've left out some very talented players which gives an indication to the strength of this squad and we know how important that stand-by list will be.

"Being selected for a Lions tour is the greatest honour for a British and Irish player and I congratulate everyone named today."

The Lions will face the Springboks in Tests on July 24, July 31 and August 7.


British and Irish Lions squad in full:

Josh Adams (Cardiff, Wales), Bundee Aki (Connacht, Ireland), Dan Biggar (Northampton Saints, Wales), Elliot Daly (Saracens, England), Gareth Davies (Scarlets, Wales), Owen Farrell (Saracens, England), Chris Harris (Gloucester, Scotland), Robbie Henshaw (Leinster, Ireland), Stuart Hogg (Exeter Chiefs, Scotland), Conor Murray (Munster, Ireland), Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors, Scotland), Louis Rees-Zammit (Gloucester, Wales), Finn Russell (Racing 92, Scotland), Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh, Scotland), Anthony Watson (Bath, England), Liam Williams (Scarlets, Wales); Tadhg Beirne (Munster, Ireland), Jack Conan (Leinster, Ireland), Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs, England), Tom Curry (Sale Sharks, England), Zander Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors, Scotland), Taulupe Faletau (Bath, Wales), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster, Ireland), Jamie George (Saracens, England), Iain Henderson (Ulster, Ireland), Jonny Hill (Exeter Chiefs, England), Maro Itoje (Saracens, England), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys, Wales), Wyn Jones (Scarlets, Wales), Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints, England), Ken Owens (Scarlets, Wales), Andrew Porter (Leinster, Ireland), Sam Simmonds (Exeter Chiefs, England), Rory Sutherland (Edinburgh, Scotland), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys, Wales), Mako Vunipola (Saracens, England), Hamish Watson (Edinburgh, Scotland).

Alun Wyn Jones has been named captain of the British and Irish Lions for their tour of South Africa, leading a 36-man squad.

Warren Gatland announced his selection on Thursday ahead of the trip in July, which follows a warm-up against Japan next month.

Wales great Jones has been chosen as captain having featured in the past nine Lions Tests going back to 2009, the longest run in the professional era.

Jones has already skippered the side once in the absence of the injured Sam Warburton in Australia eight years ago, clinching a first series win since 1997.

George North will miss the British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa after suffering a serious knee injury.

The versatile Wales back on Wednesday confirmed he sustained a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament in the Ospreys' Pro14 Rainbow Cup win over Cardiff Blues on Saturday.

North will undergo surgery next week and could be out for up to nine months, ruling him out of contention for what could have been his third Lions tour.

The 29-year-old tweeted: "Sport can be cruel. We all know the risks when we take the field.

"Unfortunately I ruptured my ACL on Saturday and will need surgery next week. Heartbroken is an understatement."

It was not sealed in the fashion they would have hoped for, but Wales could belatedly celebrate Six Nations glory on Friday.

Wayne Pivac's side had missed the chance to claim a Grand Slam triumph last week in a heartbreaking last-gasp defeat to France.

But with France needing a bonus-point win by a 21-point margin in Friday's rearranged clash with Scotland - delayed due to an earlier COVID-19 outbreak - to deny Wales again, Les Bleus' loss in Paris handed them the title.

"It's a real emotional rollercoaster, the last seven days really," Wales head coach Pivac said on Saturday.

He added: "It was just different and that's what we've come to expect from this pandemic really.

"It was evident that we had to go and do something different and that was to watch us win a championship from our living room."

That was far from the only first in a tournament with its fair share of twists and turns, though, as Opta data shows.
 

MORE TRIES, MORE DRAMA

There were six tries in Friday's frantic affair at the Stade de France and that contributed to a new Six Nations record.

A total of 86 tries were scored across the 15 matches, the most in a single edition of the tournament in its history.

And Scotland's dramatic 27-23 success, sealed with an 80th-minute Duhan van der Merwe score, was a fitting end to the competition.

Eight of the 15 games were decided by margins of five points or fewer, another new benchmark.

"There were some great games," Pivac said. "It was just a shame we didn't have crowds. You can imagine how much of an atmosphere would have been generated.

"It was a good advertisement for the game and a lot of nations are heading in the right direction. It's exciting."

Van der Merwe beat two defenders in the decisive fixture and in doing so set a new tournament high of 31, surpassing Brian O'Driscoll's 30 defenders beaten in 2000.

The wing's brace also saw him become the first Scotland player to finish a Six Nations campaign as the outright leading try scorer (five).

France needed to score at least one more try in order to have a chance of snatching the championship, but they still matched their best haul of 18 from 2006.

Not all the records were quite so impressive.

Italy conceded 239 points, 34 tries and had a points difference of -184, the worst such tallies for any team in an edition of the Six Nations.
 

CHANGING OF THE GUARD

Wales' title was their sixth since Italy were introduced to the tournament to form the Six Nations in 2000.

Four of their previous five had been Grand Slam successes, a record over this period they could not extend thanks to France's epic win last week.

But Wales are now only one Six Nations crown behind England's seven.

"It gives us a lot of confidence to feel like we're on the right track," the title-winning coach said. "We can't get ahead of ourselves."

This was not a tournament England will reflect on fondly, even as captain Owen Farrell became only the third man - after Ronan O'Gara and Jonny Wilkinson - to reach 500 points in the Five/Six Nations.

Eddie Jones' outfit came in as defending champions but slumped to their joint-worst Six Nations finish, coming fifth as they had in 2018.

England also lost against Ireland, Wales and Scotland in the same Five/Six Nations campaign for the first time since 1976.

At the bottom of the table, though, there was no change.

Italy have picked up the Wooden Spoon in each of the past six years, this after finishing bottom of the championship just once in the prior four seasons.

Wayne Pivac says Wales' failure to win the Grand Slam takes nothing away from their Six Nations success after they were crowned champions on Friday.

Six days after Wales missed out on the Grand Slam with a heartbreaking last-gasp defeat to France at Stade de France, Scotland denied Les Bleus the title with a stunning 27-23 victory in the final match of the tournament.

Duhan van der Merwe's second try right at the end of a thrilling contest gave Scotland a first win in Paris since 1999.

France had to claim a bonus-point victory by a margin of at least 21 points to win the title, but fell short due to an outstanding Scotland performance in tough conditions on a rainy evening.

Wales head coach Pivac had to contend with speculation over his future last year during a difficult start to his reign, but the New Zealander was celebrating on Friday.

He said: "From a Welsh point of view, we are over the moon and very happy to have won the Championship. It's just a shame we couldn't have done it together as a group last week.

"It [France v Scotland] was a hell of a game. It reminded me of last week with cards, penalties and missed opportunities. It had everything.

"It was a great game to watch and following on from last week, what a tournament it's been."

Pivac added: "We don't want to talk too much about last week – it [the Grand Slam] wasn't to be.

"It certainly doesn't take anything away from the fact a lot of hard work has been done, we've come out on top of the points table and won the tournament.

"We are very happy with how things are going at the moment in our camp and we've built nicely through the competition. Some great rugby has been played in this Championship and it's exciting times for all concerned."

Gregor Townsend felt a first win in Paris since 1999 was a fitting finale for one of Scotland's "best-ever seasons" as France missed out on the Six Nations title with a dramatic defeat.

Les Bleus had to secure a bonus-point victory in the final match of the tournament by a margin of at least 21 points to be crowned champions at Stade de France on Friday.

It was Scotland who were celebrated on a wet night in the French capital, though, and Wales took the title after Duhan van der Merwe snatched a stunning 27-23 triumph by scoring his second try of a pulsating contest right at the end.

David Cherry also dotted down in the second half before Finn Russell was shown a red card nine minutes from time for catching Brice Dulin in the throat with his leading arm, having booted 10 points on his return to the side.

Scotland started the tournament with a first win over England at Twickenham since 1983 and ended it with a long-awaited away victory against France.

Townsend's men finished in fourth spot, but the Scotland head coach believes they made great strides this season.

He told BBC One: "I'm so proud of the team. They came here with a bit of adversity with not our full squad, an injury to one of our starters [Matt Fagerson] on Wednesday, a yellow card [for Stuart Hogg], a red card, we had to come back against a very good side, but they showed courage, effort, togetherness, and skill to win.

"A great end to a really promising season for us. Even though we finished fourth, it feels like one of our best-ever seasons with the victories we've had this year and the performances tonight especially.

"That's now been the last two years we've been competitive in every game. We've grown a lot this year, grown a lot this campaign, and we've got to continue to grow over the next few years."

Scotland captain Hogg expressed his pride following a famous win, but was left with mixed feelings.

"Results at times at times have been outstanding, the performances at times have been very good, but we're probably going to be kicking ourselves in the foot with some of the losses," said the full-back.

"We're not going to get carried away, we're going to enjoy this moment and start building towards something memorable.

"I'm the captain of a very, very proud nation and we'll continue to work hard."

Wales were crowned Six Nations champions as Scotland denied France with a dramatic long-awaited 27-23 victory in Paris on Friday despite Finn Russell's red card.

Les Bleus had to score four tries or more and win by a margin of at least 21 points to end their 11-year wait for the title, but they were denied in a pulsating final match of the tournament on a rainy evening.

France led 13-10 at half-time courtesy of a Brice Dulin score after Scotland wing Duhan van der Merwe's somewhat contentious opening try at the Stade de France.

Damian Penaud scored a classy second France try early in the second half, but David Cherry touched down on the hour mark to put Scotland back in front and leave Les Bleus' title hopes hanging by a thread.

Swan Rebbadj's try gave Fabien Galthie's side the lead once again before Russell, who booted 10 points, was shown a red card for making contact with Dulin's neck with his arm.

France then had Baptiste Serin sent to the sin bin and there was a stunning twist with the clock in the red, as Van der Merwe claimed a decisive double to give Scotland a first win in Paris since 1999.

France have named fly-half Romain Ntamack in the XV for their potential Six Nations-winning finale with Scotland on Friday.

The 21-year-old Stade Toulousain man replaces Matthieu Jalibert, who misses out with the head injury sustained during their thrilling 32-30 win over Wales last Saturday.

Ntamack was the 2020 Six Nations player of the Championship and would have been first choice in this campaign had he not suffered a jaw injury in December which gave Jailbert the chance to feature.

The match was originally scheduled for February 28 but a COVID-19 outbreak in the French camp saw the fixture postponed.

France must record a bonus-point victory, and win by at least 21 points, or claim a 20-point win and score at least six tries, to snatch the title away from Wales.

If France score precisely five tries and are victorious by 20 points the Championship will be shared for the first time since 1988.

In a twist of circumstance, it was Wales and France who shared the honours on that occasion, when the tournament was the Five Nations.

The return of Ntamack is one of two enforces changes, and five overall, made by France coach Fabien Galthie.

Paul Willemse is suspended after his red card against Wales so Galthie has decided to pair Swan Rebbadj and Bernard Le Roux at second row, with Romain Taofifenua named among the replacements.

Anthony Jelonch has been selected ahead of Dylan Cretin at blindside flanker, while centre Arthur Vincent comes in at inside centre as Gael Fickou moves to the wing with Teddy Thomas dropped to the bench.

"The Scots have the best defence in the tournament. They are very well organised and well disciplined," Galthie told France Rugby.

"We must not be wrong about what is at stake. You have to win the match, the rest will come later. We have to focus on performance and winning the match, we'll see what happens next."

Scotland coach Gregor Townsend makes four changes to his XV as outside centre Chris Harris, scrum-half Ali Price, hooker George Turner and fly-half Finn Russell return.

Russell is back from concussion which means captain Stuart Hogg returns to full-back while Sean Maitland stands aside.

Huw Jones, Scott Steele and Dave Cherry will be on the bench, where they are joined by Adam Hastings, who may feature for the first time in the tournament after injury and suspension absences.

"The match against France provides us with an opportunity to finish the Six Nations in our highest position in its history," Townsend told Scottish Rugby.

"This is a great opportunity for us to take on France, at home in Paris, as they also look to end the championship on a high."

France: Brice Dulin, Damian Penaud, Virimi Vakatawa, Arthur Vincent, Gael Fickou, Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont; Cyril Baille, Julien Marchand, Mohamed Haouas, Bernard Le Roux, Swan Rebbadj, Anthony Jelonch, Charles Ollivon, Gregory Alldritt.

Replacements: Camille Chat, Jean-Baptiste Gros, Uini Atonio, Romain Taofifenua, Dylan Cretin, Baptiste Serin, Anthony Bouthier, Teddy Thomas.

Scotland: Stuart Hogg, Darcy Graham, Chris Harris, Sam Johnson, Duhan van der Merwe, Finn Russell, Ali Price; Rory Sutherland, George Turner, Zander Fagerson, Sam Skinner, Grant Gilchrist, Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson, Matt Fagerson.

Replacements: Dave Cherry, Oli Kebble, Simon Berghan, Alex Craig, Nick Haining, Scott Steele, Adam Hastings, Huw Jones.

The British and Irish Lions' tour of South Africa is set to go ahead as planned later this year after proposals to stage matches elsewhere were rejected.

Due to continued complications surrounding the coronavirus crisis, questions were raised over whether the Lions would be able to travel to South Africa for the eight-match trip.

But rather than host matches in the UK and Ireland, or take up Australia's offer to play games Down Under, it has been decided to press ahead with the original itinerary

The Lions and SA Rugby released a joint statement on Tuesday to confirm an agreement is in place over the staging of the tour, which begins on July 3 and continues into early August.

"After reviewing information relating to the various contingency scenarios being considered, I can confirm that the board's intended position is for the Tour to go ahead as scheduled in South Africa in 2021," said Lions chairman Jason Leonard.

"We acknowledge that there is a significant amount of work still to be undertaken to deliver a robust Covid-19 countermeasure plan to ensure a successful, safe and uninterrupted Tour. SA Rugby will have our full support to help implement this plan."

However, the original plan for the Lions to play five warm-up matches against provincial teams, an invitational side and second-string South Africa A before the three-Test series with the Springboks could still change.

"We appreciate the Lions' faith and share their desire to see a safe and successful tour,” said SA Rugby president Mark Alexander in the same statement. 

"We have been in regular contact with our government to make that a reality against the backdrop of the pandemic and its predicted progression over the coming months.

"There are serious financial implications for SA Rugby, should the event take place without any supporters in attendance, and we cannot ignore that in our considerations. 

"But we are determined that the eventual outcome will deliver the best occasion and experience for players, supporters and our commercial partners."

Speaking earlier on Tuesday, RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney acknowledged the preferred contingency plan of staging the tour in the UK had become increasingly unviable.

"It was always the preferred option to go to South Africa," he said. "We had to develop a whole range of different scenarios given the potential outcomes and one of those was a UK series.

"It's quite controversial as it's not the spirit of the Lions, but as fall-back option, we thought it was a strong one. If they can't host it, the agreement's off and we've probably run out of time to host it in the UK, so you play in 2025."

Lions coach Warren Gatland is due to announce a squad for the tour at the start of May, with the first warm-up match to be played on home soil on Murrayfield against Japan on June 26.

England will conduct a "brutally honest" internal review of their Six Nations performance but will not rush the decision on the future of Eddie Jones.

The 2019 World Cup finalists finished fifth in this year's Six Nations tournament, losing all three games against Scotland, Wales and Ireland for the first time since 1976.

A spirited victory over France had restored some credibility to the side after a shock 11-6 home defeat to Scotland and a resounding 40-24 loss in Cardiff, but their campaign concluded last weekend with a 32-18 reverse in Dublin.

England conceded 121 points in their five games, more than in any previous Five or Six Nations championship, leaving Jones' position as head coach under serious scrutiny.

Bill Sweeney, CEO of the Rugby Football Union (RFU), accepted there was huge disappointment around their performance and that tough questions must be asked as they attempt to build a squad capable of winning the World Cup in two years' time.

However, he insisted on Tuesday that any possible changes to the team will be given great consideration.

Asked to summarise England's Six Nations campaign, Sweeney replied: "How long have you got?

"It's a tough question. We're all incredibly disappointed. England don't go into a Six Nations to come fifth, which is why we'll have a thorough debrief.

"We had a debrief scheduled for May and we'll probably bring it forward to April. It needs to be a thorough, brutally honest analysis of what went wrong and why.

"Since Japan, our focus is on going and winning a World Cup in France.

"You'd expect us to do an absolute and full debrief. You have to recognise and respect Eddie's achievements since he's been here: three Six Nations championships, a grand slam, a World Cup final - that's a tremendous performance.

"But he wants to understand this as much as anybody and we want to let him talk to us about what happened in the Six Nations and are we on track to where we want to get to in 2023.

"It's really important at this stage to apply good old English calm. We have to react, we won't do nothing, but it's important not to overreact. We won't leave any stone unturned in trying to understand it.

"It's a young squad, it was the youngest ever team in a World Cup final, and yet we're in a period of transition. It's unusual. When you're in transition, you want to make sure you're heading in the right direction.

"I don't think I can honestly answer [if he will be sacked]. He's as disappointed as we are, and we'll do this debriefing session together."

France coach Fabien Galthie accused Wales' players of making sure Paul Willemse was sent off in Saturday's dramatic Six Nations encounter and urged the authorities not to impose a heavy sanction on the second-rower.

Wales were denied a famous Grand Slam by a last-gasp Brice Dulin try as Les Bleus kept their own championship hopes alive with a breathless 32-30 triumph in Paris.

That was despite France having to play out the final 12 minutes with 14 men after referee Luke Pearce judged Willemse made contact with the eyes of Wyn Jones.

Galthie, speaking through a translator at the post-match news conference, said: "If you watch the Wales players, it feels like they specialise in making sure opponents get red cards.

"Their body language is quite clear, I hope the referees are going to take that into consideration. I don't think he deserves a sanction.

"If you watch the video there is clearly no contact, or if there is it's clearly very limited. It's absolutely not voluntary. I believe we need to share this, I don't see why he should be sanctioned."

Oppositive number Wayne Pivac was keen not to be drawn into a back-and-forth over the incident.

"I don't really have any comment to that," said Pivac. "The match officials are running the game and they have plenty of replays.

"As you saw, it went on for some time. They went through their process and that's what the officials are there to do."

While it was heartbreak in the French capital for Wales, the hosts still have a rearranged fixture against Scotland to play.

To deny Wales the trophy, Galthie's men have to secure a bonus-point win over Scotland and triumph by at least 21 points.

Gael Fickou hopes the best is still to come for France in this year's tournament.

"The pinnacle? I hope it will be next week," the versatile centre said. "Scotland have a great team who are playing very well. We know it will be a complicated match.

"But we will do it step by step. Already, we must try to win it. And then we'll see what happens. We know it will be difficult, but we believe in it."

For Pivac, coming so close to a Grand Slam but falling short left the New Zealander feeling "numb".

"[It's] just desperately frustrating. The players got so close. We have to be proud of them," Pivac added.

"It's quite a numb feeling. The boys had put in such a fantastic effort, the game went pretty much to plan in the first half.

"We were urging them on, but to go from a potential Grand Slam to waiting another six days is frustrating."

So near and yet so far for Wales, who saw a Six Nations Grand Slam slip from their grasp when France conjured up a magical finish in Paris to keep their tournament hopes alive.

Les Bleus looked dead and buried when they trailed 30-20 in the second half, only to produce a late, late show that means the identity of the 2021 champions remains unknown, at least for a few more days.

Perhaps it should not have come as a surprise that a crazy contest in the French capital ended in such astonishing fashion, though.

The two teams had played the game as if it was on fast forward in the opening quarter, sharing four tries during a frenetic first half that finished all-square, allowing all – playing and watching – to draw breath.

Wales, however, seized control after the break, Josh Adams' try – along with the boot of Dan Biggar – helping establish a double-digit lead. Another Six Nations sweep seemed a sure-fire certainty when Paul Willemse was sent off, the lock punished for making contact with an opponent's eyes.

The dismissal left France down to 13 at the time, prop Mohammed Haouas already sitting watching from the sidelines while spending 10 minutes in the sin bin.

Yet rather than accept the inevitable, the red card instead galvanised Les Bleus. As Wales became the team to lose their discipline, leading to yellow cards for Taulupe Faletau and Liam Williams, the hosts worked up a head of steam to come roaring back.

Charles Ollivon's converted try cut the gap to three and, on the final play with the clock having ticked beyond the 80th minute, France retained and recycled possession long enough to eventually create space out wide for Brice Dulin to dart over, in the process breaking Wales' hearts.

A championship devoid of fans due to the coronavirus pandemic had served up a visual treat for all those watching on from afar.

"I thought we were pretty good for 80 minutes, it was just those dying seconds," Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones told BBC Sport.

"Our ill-discipline probably brought a lot of pressure on. Credit to France for the way they played in the last 15 minutes, but when we look back at it, probably the ill-discipline brought all that pressure on, as well as good French play."

Wyn Jones knows what it is like to secure Grand Slam glory, having done so three times previously in his international career. Now he has experienced the disappointment of coming up just short. A game that was under control got out of hand, a situation that is never good to be in when France are the opponents.

The second-rower completed all 22 attempted tackles in the game, making him the first player with 20 or more in a Six Nations match this year with a 100 per cent success rate. He so nearly had the perfect outcome, too.

"We have been privileged to get on with the tournament and get a triple crown, but there was obviously more at stake today," he added.

They still may be crowned winners yet, with France – who scored four tries against Wales for the first time in the Six Nations – needing another bonus-point triumph in their rearranged game against Scotland to have a chance of leapfrogging into top spot.

Wales will watch on with great interest but, whatever the outcome at Murrayfield, they have come a long way in the campaign, one that followed on from a tough 2020 which included a six-Test losing streak, leaving coach Wayne Pivac under pressure.

Still, that will be little comfort in the immediate aftermath. A Grand Slam was seemingly theirs, only for Dulin to touch down and hand the Welsh with a result that will be tough to stomach.

Raphael Ibanez paid tribute to France's unbreakable belief after they kept their hopes of Six Nations glory alive with a last-gasp win over Wales.

French hopes of a comeback victory appeared to have been dashed when they had lock Paul Willemse sent off and a try chalked off in one fell swoop by the TMO with 67 minutes gone.

That left Fabien Galthie's side a man down and 10 points behind a Wales side who looked destined to complete a Grand Slam in Paris.

However, the visitors lost both Taulupe Faletau and Liam Williams to the sin bin in quick succession before Charles Ollivon crossed the line and Romain Ntamack converted to reduce the deficit to three.

And Brice Dulin broke Welsh hearts in the 82nd minute as he made the hosts' extra man tell, touching down after the ball had been worked quickly to the left.

Reflecting on the drama, team manager Ibanez told the BBC: "It was an incredible finish. Mixed emotions. It was a fantastic battle for the whole game and obviously, we got the win but it's just incredible for the boys, a massive effort.

"At times during the game, we were under massive pressure. Wales scored their opportunities, we missed a few opportunities, made a few mistakes during the game.

"But in the end what really matters in sport is just to believe and that's what the boys did until the end thanks to magnificent tries."

Asked if he thought France's hopes of winning had gone when Willemse was dismissed, Ibanez heaped further praise on the players' character.

He added: "Yeah, but you still have to believe in yourself when you start the game of rugby. 

"The intensity, the battle was just immense. Credit to Wales, they fought until the end, but the boys showed so much character. 

"I think, in the end, it's going to give a lot of confidence to the boys for the next game."

That next game pits France against Scotland at Stade de France on Friday, with the hosts knowing that a bonus-point win by a margin of 21 points would see them crowned champions.

On refocusing for that challenge, Ibanez said: "It's pretty simple. We're still in it and the next game will define our Six Nations. 

"We still have a chance to win the Six Nations so let's celebrate tonight in the changing room and then tomorrow we are going to regroup and work hard as we did this week."

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