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2018 SIX NATIONS Preview: Wales vs France {17-3-18}

This match may be inconsequential in terms of the Six Nations title but the result of this encounter is nevertheless hugely important for both sides.

The respective teams head into the final round of the competition with identical records having won two and lost two. Although Warren Gatland and Jacques Brunel have reasons to be pleased going into this contest, neither will be happy should they end with a defeat.

For Wales particularly, a loss would be especially disappointing. Gatland and his charges always go into Europe’s premier tournament with ambitions of claiming the championship so, having seen that dissipate, a victory is vital.

Despite their internal frustrations of failing to get close to Ireland this year, the New Zealander will be satisfied with the development of their attacking game.

Certainly, their ability to create chances has developed immeasurably and, while the performance against Italy was scrappy at times, it was a display which gave credence to the suggestion that Wales’ squad depth has improved.

Les Bleus will be another interesting challenge, however. Unlike Scotland, Ireland and England, who have on occasion shown an element of fallibility in aspects of their defence, Brunel’s men have remained reasonably stout throughout.

Their ability at the breakdown to both slow play down and win turnovers means that it has been difficult for their opponents to gain consistent front foot ball.

Scotland came closest to truly unpicking this French rearguard by playing at pace, scoring two well-worked tries and tiring the larger forwards out by the final quarter. As a result of the Murrayfield outfit’s success, starting at tempo and manoeuvring the visitors around will no doubt be the plan for the home side.

It will not be easy as France, in their current guise, can make any match a turgid affair, but the clash of styles may well suit the Welsh. In the pack, with Taulupe Faletau at number eight providing plenty of power and athleticism, they have enough ball-carriers to win the gain-line battle.

Should Gatland’s men dominate the physical confrontation then the backline looks plenty good enough to benefit. The inclusion of Dan Biggar is perhaps a slight surprise following the criticism post-Ireland but the Ospreys man, despite reservations from some observers, does have the ability to get their attack moving.

For France, their triumph over England was a huge fillip and, on the second-half display alone, it was thoroughly deserved, but Brunel’s next task will be to improve their set-piece and threat behind the scrum. Not much then.

Les Bleus, whether through their own issues or the interpretations of referee Jaco Peyper, struggled in the scrum and were even worse at the line-out. With Guilhem Guirado’s absence adding to those woes, there are plenty of potential weaknesses for Wales to exploit.

Previous results:

2017: France won 20-18 in Paris
2016: Wales won 19-10 in Cardiff
2015: Wales won 20-13 in Paris
2014: Wales won 27-06 in Cardiff
2013: Wales won 16-06 in Paris
2012: Wales won 16-09 in Cardiff
2011: France won 09-08 in Auckland
2011: France won 28-09 in Paris
2010: France won 26-20 in Cardiff
2009: France won 21-16 in Paris

The teams:

Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 13 Scott Williams, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Josh Navidi, 6 Justin Tipuric, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 4 Cory Hill, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Rob Evans
Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Nicky Smith, 18 Samson Lee, 19 Bradley Davies, 20 Aaron Shingler, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Gareth Anscombe, 23 Steff Evans

France: 15 Benjamin Fall, 14 Gael Fickou, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud (c), 12 Geoffrey Doumayrou, 11 Remy Grosso, 10 Francois Trinh-Duc, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Marco Tauleigne, 7 Yacouba Camara, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 4 Paul Gabrillagues, 3 Cedate Gomes Sa, 2 Adrien Pelissie, 1 Jefferson Poirot
Replacements: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Dany Priso, 18 Rabah Slimani, 19 Bernard Le Roux, 20 Mathieu Babillot, 21 Baptiste Couilloud, 22 Lionel Beauxis, 23 Geoffrey Palis

Date: Saturday, March 17
Venue: Principality Stadium
Kick-off: 17:00 GMT
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Luke Pearce (England)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)



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