Tomos Williams and Romain Ntamack are two of the big selection calls for the opening match of the 2019 Six Nations in Paris

Six Nations France v Wales Preview

The 2019 Six Nations kicks off in Paris with France and Wales taking to the Stade de France pitch for a Friday night fixture – and both teams will be hoping there is less controversy than two years ago.

In that 2017 match, the final whistle didn’t blow until the 100th minute, with that lengthy final passage of play involving a series of penalties and scrums deep in the Wales 22 before France scored a converted try in that to win 20-18.

It was a controversial result that led a Six Nations investigation into some late front-row substitutions.

Related: France 20-18 Wales

So what of this year’s clash? Wales head to Paris in confident mood having won their last nine Tests, including a clean sweep in the autumn window for the first time, and developed more strength in depth over the past year.

Six Nations France v Wales Preview

Man at No 10: Gareth Anscombe impressed at fly-half in the autumn (Getty Images)

France, in contrast, won only three Tests in 2018 and ended their November campaign by losing to Fiji.

Although Wales are slight underdogs with the bookmakers for this fixture, they are much shorter odds than France to win the Six Nations title – and a victory in Paris would kick-start a campaign when England and Ireland have to visit Cardiff. It’s a case of maintaining their momentum in 2019 as Warren Gatland starts the countdown to the end of his Wales’ reign.

What’s the big team news?

France have picked two debutants in their starting XV – teenager Romain Ntamack at inside-centre instead of Mathieu Bastareaud and Paul Willemse, the South Africa-born 26-year-old who became a French citizen in November, at lock.

The half-back selection – ever-changing for the French! – is Morgan Parra and Camille Lopez. This will be only the second time the Clermont pair have started a Test together.

Tomos Williams has got the nod at scrum-half ahead of the more experienced Gareth Davies, who has been struggling with a thigh strain and hadn’t been able to participate in all the training sessions. Williams has been in good form for Cardiff Blues and his sniping runs could cause the big French forwards problems. As Gatland says: “He has some X-factor.”

Ross Moriarty is fit to start in the back row alongside Josh Navidi and Justin Tipuric.

Even with a few changes from the teams that played in the autumn, Wales look the more settled side and fans will be hoping Gareth Anscombe at ten and Liam Williams at 15 can provide more creativity in attack.

Related: Downtime with Gareth Anscombe

Wales have a more mobile pack – and forwards that showed an improved carrying and passing game during the autumn – but they will need to contain France’s power game, in the loose and at the set-piece.

Six Nations France v Wales Preview

Danger man: Wesley Fofana returns in midfield for the French (Getty Images)

Expect fewer midfield bursts from the hosts given the absence of Bastareaud, but they have a lot of running threats in the likes of Wesley Fofana, Maxime Medard and Yoann Huget. Those players will put a Welsh defence that was rightly lauded in 2018 under a lot of pressure.

What have the coaches said?

France coach Jacques Brunel: “We desperately need a win in our first match to restore some confidence after a bruising 2018. This match is important but it will provide a great challenge under the lights.”

Wales coach Warren Gatland: “They’ll be a tough proposition. It’s a big pack and a back-line with flair. They’ll look to play off the front foot and use that pace out wide. They clearly want to be big and physical up front and play quick out wide.”

Six Nations France v Wales Preview

Record breaker: Ken Owens, here with Alun Wyn Jones, will become Wales’ most-capped hooker (Getty Images)

Any interesting statistics?

  • Ken Owens will become Wales’ most-capped hooker, moving clear of Matthew Rees – they currently both sit on 60.
  • Romain Ntamack, who doesn’t turn 20 until May and is the son of former France wing Emile, is the youngest player in any Six Nations squad this season.
  • Wales have won six of their last seven games against France, the only defeat coming in Paris in 2017.
  • Morgan Parra will play in his first Six Nations game since 2015. The scrum-half returned to the France team for last year’s June Tests against New Zealand having not featured since RWC 2015.
  • A Wales win will see them draw level with the 1999 team’s record of ten consecutive Test wins. The all-time record is 11, set between 1907 and 1910.
  • This will be the 97th Test between the two countries, with Wales winning 49 of the previous 96, France 44 and three drawn matches.

What time does it kick off and is it on TV?

France v Wales, Friday 1 February, Stade de France

This is a Friday night game, kicking off at 9pm in Paris – 8pm in the UK and Ireland. It will be live on BBC One and BBC Radio 5 live as well as TV3 in Ireland.

England’s Wayne Barnes is referee for this match, having also been in charge of that controversial 100-minute game two years ago. He is assisted by Andrew Brace, of Ireland, and Kiwi Brendon Pickerill while Englishman Rowan Kitt is the TMO.

Six Nations France v Wales Preview

First up: Montpellier lock Paul Willemse will make his France debut (Getty Images)

What are the line-ups?

FRANCE: Maxime Medard; Damian Penaud, Wesley Fofana, Romain Ntamack, Yoann Huget; Camille Lopez, Morgan Parra; Jefferson Poirot, Guilhem Guirado (captain), Uini Atonio, Sebastien Vahaamahina, Paul Willemse, Wenceslas Lauret, Arthur Iturria, Louis Picamoles.

Replacements: Julien Marchand, Dany Priso, Demba Bamba, Felix Lambey, Gregory Alldritt, Baptiste Serin, Gael Fickou, Geoffrey Doumayrou.

WALES: Liam Williams; George North, Jonathan Davies, Hadleigh Parkes, Josh Adams; Gareth Anscombe, Tomos Williams; Rob Evans, Ken Owens, Tomas Francis, Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones (captain), Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric, Ross Moriarty.

Replacements: Elliot Dee, Wyn Jones, Samson Lee, Cory Hill, Aaron Wainwright, Gareth Davies, Dan Biggar, Owen Watkin.

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