FOR a while it looked like Wales would be chasing second place in the Six Nations on final weekend, instead they will try to avoid the wooden spoon.

Warren Gatland’s men were eventually overpowered by France 45-24 in an eight-try cracker in Cardiff.

Wales led entering the final quarter but second-half pressure eventually told, with the hosts pinned in their own territory in front of Glanmor’s Gap.

There were tries for Dragons wing Rio Dyer, scrum-half Tomos Williams and centre Joe Roberts but it was the sizeable French contingent that sang loudest in Principality Stadium thanks to their side having more bulk and more knowhow.

The lead changed hands five times but swung decisively when Les Bleus hit the front with quarter of an hour to go through heavyweight prop Georges-Henri Colombe.

It means that Gatland’s men will look to avoid an unwanted clean sweep when they host Italy on Saturday, with fifth the highest they can finish in a testing campaign of pluckiness but no success.

The result spoilt what was a special occasion for Dragons hooker Elliot Dee, who led out his country when winning his 50th cap after a late promotion from the bench because of Ryan Elias’ tight hamstring.

Penalties were traded in the opening exchanges by fly-halves Sam Costelow and Thomas Ramos before Dyer raced over for the first try in the ninth minute.

South Wales Argus: OPENER: Dragons winger Rio Dyer races over for Wales against FranceOPENER: Dragons winger Rio Dyer races over for Wales against France (Image: PA)

The Dragons winger had already been prominent with his carrying and earned a slice of luck; lock Adam Beard flung the ball back after being clobbered and it fell to the speedster who had a gaping hole to go through.

Costelow added the extras but a formidable French scrum allowed Ramos to cut the gap when making it 10-6 after 14 minutes.

Les Bleus got their noses in front for the first time in the 22nd minute when power was mixed with panache to open Wales up down their left, centre Gael Fickou beating last-man Costelow in a one-on-one finish with the conversion going over from wide out for a 13-10 lead.

It didn’t last long.

Poor French defence allowed centre Owen Watkin to break through and find Williams in support for a seven-pointer.

Back it swung the other way with Wales full-back Cam Winnett forced to concede a five-metre scrum after a cunning dink over the top.

Strong scrum – big Fickou carry – snipe by Racing 92 scrum-half Nolann Le Garrec.

Ramos knocked over the simple conversion and it was 20-17 to the French after half an hour and the visitors then had a bout of sustained pressure.

They put Dee’s lineout throwing under pressure inside the 22 but the Dragons man was up to the task and found his jumpers.

France bossed the closing stages of a breathless first half – which was helped by the lack of TMO intervention – but Wales held firm to ensure it remained a three-point game going into the second half.

That effort paid off when a terrific offloading attack worked Wales into the 22 for Roberts to roll over for a try that Costelow converted.

Back came the French through their power game and they turned down three points in favour of a five-metre scrum just to the left of the posts.

They carried hard off it and lock Thibault Flament crossed, only for it to be chalked off after footage revealed he had knocked on when grounding.

France were playing with penalty advantage and opted for a scrum, then another after Wales were pinged again… only to give away a free-kick for an early engagement.

South Wales Argus: COVER: Dragons back rower Aaron Wainwright grafts in defence for WalesCOVER: Dragons back rower Aaron Wainwright grafts in defence for Wales (Image: PA)

The bout of pressure eventually led to an offside penalty that Ramos knocked between the sticks to cut Wales’ lead to 24-23 entering the final quarter.

It was one-way traffic and the French got the third try that they deserved in the 65th minute when, after a Damian Penaud dash down the right wing, tighthead Colombe powered over with the conversion making it 30-24 to the visitors.

They had their bonus – and the game after 68 minutes – after Wales shot themselves in the foot.

An unnecessary long pass to the right wing resulted in Josh Adams being smashed in his 22 by opposite number Louis Bielle-Biarrey and then Gareth Davies was charged down by Romain Taofifenua, who won the race to the ball.

Ramos converted from the left touchline and then added a penalty to stretch the advantage to 40-24 and kill any hope of a dramatic finale.

Wales still had their four-try bonus to hunt yet it was the French that finished on the attack and replacement scrum-half Maxime Lucu went over to the sound of La Marseillaise.

Wales: Winnett; Adams, Roberts (Grady 60), Watkin, Dyer; Costelow (Lloyd 56), T Williams (G Davies 56); G Thomas (Domachowski 70), Dee (Lloyd 70), Assiratti (D Lewis 43), Rowlands (Martin 70), Beard, D Jenkins (captain), Reffell (Mann 56), Wainwright.

Scorers: tries – Dyer, T Williams, Roberts; conversions – Costelow (3); penalty – Costelow.

France scorers: tries – Fickou, Le Garrec, Colombe, Taofifenua, Lucu; conversions – Ramos (4); penalties – Ramos (4).

Referee: Luke Pearce (England).

Attendance: 71,242.