Having won their first Six Nations match in Cardiff for a decade, France are now up to fifth in the World Rugby Men's Rankings, a position they last held in March 2014.
Inspired by four of their World Rugby U20 Championship-winning side with man-of-the-match Romain Ntamack to the fore, Les Bleus ran in three tries to Wales' two in a pulsating match under the roof of the Principality Stadium.
Fly-half Ntamack delivered the decisive blow when, with his side leading by a single point at 17-16, he intercepted Nick Tompkins' pass to race clear and score in the 52nd minute (pictured). It was a deflating moment for the Welsh who had worked tirelessly to stay in the game despite conceding first-half tries to impressive full-back Anthony Bouthier and Paul Willemse.
Close-range tries from Dillon Lewis and Dan Biggar topped and tailed the second half, following three penalties from Biggar in the first 40, but there was no stopping France recording a third straight win of the Championship.
With a fraction under one-and-a-half points on offer for the victory, France improve their overall rating to 83.86 points with Wales dropping to sixth as a result.
England stay third, Ireland fourth
Meanwhile, England and Ireland stay in third and fourth place respectively but there is now a 3.34-point gap between the two following a 24-12 victory for the home side at Twickenham.
Leading 17-0 at half-time, thanks to tries from Elliot Daly and George Ford, England had too much in reserve for the Irish who put in an improved second-half display.
They struck back through Robbie Henshaw but Luke Cowan-Dickie's try from a well-worked lineout drive meant Andrew Porter's try had no bearing on the result, other than to deny England the benefits of a win by more than 15 points in the rankings.
Scotland came through a tough test in Rome to beat Italy 17-0 and move above Japan and into eighth place and the second band of seedings for the RWC 2023 draw.
Inspired by captain Stuart Hogg's fine solo score in the first half, Scotland turned the screw in the second period and added further tries through Chris Harris and Adam Hastings.
Italy drop below Tonga into 14th as a result of their 25th consecutive defeat in the Six Nations.
After this Round 3 of #RugbyEurope #Championship #REC2020, look at the standings : intense battle to come for the bottom of the group - Four teams have two points of difference.— Rugby Europe (@rugby_europe) February 22, 2020
Details on https://t.co/S8vij4G0yK pic.twitter.com/19h1JgR5vx
Bears claw their way back up the rankings
Russia were the only side to improve their ranking following the third round of the Rugby Europe Championship, the Bears moving up one place to 24th after a 19-18 win against previously unbeaten Portugal.
Ramil Gaisin kicked four penalties and converted Andrey Ostrikov's third-minute try as Russia built up a 19-7 half-time lead, but they faced a nervy final 11 minutes when Manuel Pinto scored to bring Os Lobos to within one point of their hosts.
Romania has been an unhappy hunting ground for Spain in the Rugby Europe Championship and the trend continued on Saturday as the home side took the spoils, 24-7, despite playing half-an-hour of the match down to 14 men following yellow cards to Dragos Ser, Alexandru Savin and fellow prop Horatiu Pungea.
Once again, Romania were heavily reliant on veteran centre Florin Vlaicu for their win, their all-time leading points scorer kicking two penalties in reach half and converting full-back Ionul Melinte's 51st-minute try. Melinte added a second try on the stroke of full-time, just after Spain had scored their only points through Pierre Nueno's try.
After eight consecutive test victories, Spain have now lost two on the bounce, the defeat in Bucharest following on from the one to Georgia a fortnight ago, and they are now down to 18th in the rankings.
In the remaining game, Akaki Tabutsadze scored four tries on his home debut as Georgia comprehensively beat Belgium 78-6 – the first Georgian to score four in a test match. Fellow winger Zurabi Dzeladze also crossed the line twice as the Lelos racked up 11 tries from open play all told as well as a penalty try.
The result did not have any impact on the rankings though, due to the 15.13 points difference between themselves Belgium before home weighting is factored in.