This was justice of a sort.

While it would be hard to argue that Wales truly deserved to win, France richly merited a defeat that – with trips to Twickenham and Dublin next on their schedule – leaves them staring at the possibility of their worst championship performance in decades. The cascade of whistling from the crowd at the end left little doubt what the French public thought.

After an opening weekend that showed how good rugby can be, match two of the second round plumbed its depths. Two teams without, it appeared, an idea between them other than charging straight at the opposition and seeking contact. Nor were they capable of executing that simple programme competently, with play broken up by an endless series of handling errors.

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It was, admittedly, played in poor conditions – a cold night and a muckheap of a pitch whose cutting-up may at least have had the merit of making the Welsh, long resigned to the substandard surfaces at the Millennium Stadium, feel at home. But what was most depressing was that, of the Six Nations, these two are historically most associated with open, attacking rugby.

Wales won because they produced the single moment of coherent attacking play seen all night. It came, perhaps not coincidentally, in the 70th minute, shortly after Lloyd Williams had replaced Mike Phillips at scrum-half with the score tied, apparently irrevocably, at 6-6. Suddenly given a little space and time near the French 22-metre line, Welsh outside-half Dan Biggar chipped to the left wing where the powerful George North picked up and leapt across the line to touchdown. Even then there was a semblance of doubt that the deadlock would be broken – but the video referee confirmed the score.

Leigh Halfpenny, a shining exception to the strictures above, landed the conversion from the left-hand touchline to make it 13-6, then added a 45-metre penalty to ensure that there was no way back for the French – although they did not look to have the will or the means to seek it out in any case.

Before the try, the best teamwork seen all night had been the combination of the Dax band and Welsh fans in a spirited rendition of Delilah shortly after half time, and the main source of entertainment the scoreboard's eloquent descriptions of the endless offences which punctuated the match – "mauvais liaison d'un jouer" sounds so much more interesting than "not binding properly".

The most interesting thing to happen in a desperate first-half was the strange coincidence of Gethin Jenkins exiting in the 38th minute for the second week running with a blood injury. Frederic Michalak had given France an early lead after Wales were penalised at a scrum, while Halfpenny equalised a few minutes later when a French tackler failed to roll away.

The second half was no better. Halfpenny landed a 42nd-minute penalty and Michalak kicked an equaliser nine minutes later. After eight matches without a victory, though, Wales at least managed to win ugly. It was their first in Paris since 2005 and a first in proper internationals (beating the Barbarians emphatically does not count) for interim coach Rob Howley. They can now travel in hope rather than trepidation to Rome and Murrayfield.

France: Y Huget; W Fofana, M Bastareaud, M Mermoz, B Fall; F Michalak, M Machenaud;

Y Forestier, D Szarzewski, N Mas; J Suta, Y Meastri; F Ouedraogo, L Picamoles, T Dusautoir (capt).

Replacements: Trinh-Duc for Fall 40, B Kayser to Szarzwewski, V Debaty for Forestier, D Chouly for F Ouedraogo 50, F Parra for Machenaud, L Ducalcon for Mas 55, R Taofifenua for Suta 65, F Fritz for Mermoz 75.

Wales: L Halfpenny; A Cuthbert, J Davies, M Roberts, G North; D Biggar, M Phillips; G Jenkins, R Hibbard, A Jones; A Coombs, I Evans; R Jones (captain), T Faletau, J Tipuric. Replacements: P James for Jenkins (blood) 38-40 (permanent )58, K Owens for Hibbard 55, L Williams for Phillips 70, C Mitchell for A Jones, L Reed for Evans, A Shingler for R Jones, S Williams for Roberts 79.