OITA, 19 Oct – A preview of the quarter-final between Wales and France which kicks-off at 16:15 on Sunday at Oita Stadium.
The Big Picture
Wales and France have met only once previously at a World Cup but that game is seared into the memory of the Welsh players in particular.
Wales went into the semi-final in Auckland in 2011 as favourites, having confidently dispatched Ireland in the last-eight while France had struggled, losing twice in the pool games.
But the match was turned on its head after just 17 minutes when Wales captain Sam Warburton was controversially sent off for a tip-tackle on Vincent Clerc.
Despite playing for more than an hour with one man fewer, Warren Gatland’s side scored their only try through scrum-half Mike Phillips and but for a late Leigh Halfpenny penalty from long-range falling agonisingly short, they would have won.
But France triumphed 9-8 and came close to upsetting hosts New Zealand in the final. Wales see that as a chance of World Cup glory lost and are determined to make amends on Sunday.
“The 2011 game probably hurts still for the players involved,” said Gatland. “Getting a red card after 17 minutes against a world-class team, you expect to lose by 20 or 30 points. But we hung in till the end and had the chance to win it.
“So to lose 9-8 was so disappointing, but it showed what this team all about. They never give up.”
Wales have been dominant in recent Six Nations games against France, winning seven of the past eight. This year they came from 16-0 down at half-time to triumph 24-19 in Paris, pictured top, and went on to win a third Grand Slam under Gatland.
The Kiwi leaves his post at the end of the tournament so the players are fully aware that this quarter-final could be the last game of his 12-year reign.
“It may be his last game but we are just concentrating on how big a match this is for us,” said hooker Ken Owens. “It’s a World Cup quarter-final. As a player, you only get the chance to play in it once every four years and that’s only if you are extremely lucky and extremely well-prepared.”
Whether it is Gatland’s last game may depend on which French team turns up. Even from this World Cup, it is hard to tell.
They were superb in the first half of their opening game but then had to resist an Argentina comeback. After beating USA quite comfortably, they had to survive another comeback against Tonga.
They lost a chance to answer some of the questions when the final pool game against England was cancelled. If they allow Wales to take control up front, even their brilliant backs will struggle to get them into another semi-final. At least they have had two weeks to work on their tactics.
“Wales’s confidence is higher than ours, that’s obvious. Their ranking is much better,” said France coach Jacques Brunel ahead of what could be his final game in charge.
“They’ve been consistent for a few seasons. That’s undeniable. They’re the favourites. We’re in the role of the underdog. That’s logical, normal, but it doesn’t stop us believing in our chances.
“They’re not going to change their strategy. They’re going to rely on a very strong defensive screen, quality individuals, their ability to put the opposition under pressure.
“It will be the same XV that played against Australia. In the first seven minutes, they suffocated Australia and perhaps won the match there. They’re capable of imposing that. By contrast, we saw in their recent matches that there were opportunities. We have the ability to trouble them.”
Played 97 – Wales 50W – France 44W – Drawn 3
In the spotlight:
Wales’s New Zealand-born centre Hadleigh Parkes watched their 2011 semi-final defeat in a bar in Auckland. As he did the 2015 quarter-final when Wales lost to South Africa at Twickenham.
Four years later, having taken up an offer to play for the Scarlets and qualified for Wales on residency rules, he finds himself at the knockout stages of a World Cup.
Parkes has emerged as a key part of the backline, forming a formidable centre partnership with Jonathan Davies. It was a huge boost when both proved their fitness this week.
He has a habit of scoring key tries. Parkes grabbed the opener as Wales saw off Ireland to clinch the Grand Slam in March. And it was his similar catch-and-plunge for the try against Australia that put them on the path to victory in the vital Pool D clash.
Wales have reverted to the same starting XV that beat Georgia then Australia to help them top Pool D with a perfect record, only the second time they have achieved the feat at a RWC.
Fly-half Dan Biggar (head), centres Jonathan Davies (knee) and Parkes (shoulder) and winger George North (ankle) have all been passed fit.
France have made five changes from the side that defeated Tonga almost two weeks ago. Captain Guilhem Guirado comes in for Camille Chat at hooker, second row Bernard Le Roux replaces Paul Gabrillagues, scrum-half Antoine Dupont is fit to take over from Baptiste Serin, left-winger Yoann Huget displaces Alivereti Raka, and Gael Fickou comes in at inside-centre for Sofiane Guitoune.
Stats & Trivia
Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones, who played in the 2011 game, will move to third on the all-time international appearance list with Ireland’s Brian O’Driscoll on 141 tests – 132 for Wales and nine for the British & Irish Lions.
Maxime Medard is the only survivor from the France team who beat Wales in the 2011 semi-final at Eden Park. He again starts at full-back.
“The worst memory is the World Cup semi-final in 2011. The best memory? I’m just trying to think… this Sunday.” – head coach Warren Gatland on previous games against France.
“We’ve known Wales’ game for eight years. They have this ability to put their opponents under pressure, to wait for their opponent to make a mistake so they can score. Aside from that, their kicking game doesn’t bother me. I really like that. We’re ready for everything.” – Yoann Huget.
FRANCE RWC 2019 RESULTS
W – France 23-21 Argentina
W – France 33-9 USA
W – France 23-21 Tonga
D – France 0-0 England
WALES RWC 2019 RESULTS
W – Wales 43-14 Georgia
W – Wales 29-25 Australia
W – Wales 29-17 Fiji
W – Wales 35-13 Uruguay
1 Wyn Jones, 2 Ken Owens, 3 Tomas Francis, 4 Jake Ball, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (capt.), 6 Aaron Wainwright, 7 Justin Tipuric, 8 Josh Navidi, 9 Gareth Davies, 10 Dan Biggar, 11 Josh Adams, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 13 Jonathan Davies, 14 George North, 15 Liam Williams
Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Rhys Carré, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Adam Beard, 20 Ross Moriarty, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Rhys Patchell, 23 Owen Watkin
1 Jefferson Poirot, 2 Guilhem Guirado (capt.), 3 Rabah Slimani, 4 Bernard le Roux, 5 Sébastien Vaha’amahina, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 7 Charles Ollivon, 8 Grégory Alldritt, 9 Antoine Dupont, 10 Romain Ntamack, 11 Yoann Huget, 12 Gaël Fickou, 13 Virimi Vakatawa, 14 Damian Penaud, 15 Maxime Médard
Replacements: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Cyril Baille, 18 Emerick Setiano, 19 Paul Gabrillagues, 20 Louis Picamoles, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Camille Lopez, 23 Vincent Rattez
Date: Sunday, October 20
Venue: Oita Stadium, Oita
Kickoff: 16:15 local
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistants: Nic Berry (Australia) & Paul Williams (New Zealand)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)