Can France keep their Grand Slam bid on track by beating Wales in Cardiff for the first time in a decade?
Six Nations Wales v France Preview
France are coming to the Principality Stadium looking for their first win over Wales in Cardiff since 2010 and they will be full of confidence having started their Six Nations campaign with two wins from two.
They also have plenty of insider knowledge with Shaun Edwards, Wales’ defence coach for more than a decade, now part of the French management team. Edwards’s influence has already been evident in the performances of this France team and he will be hoping the men in blue can keep their Grand Slam hopes alive by breaking their duck in Wales.
Edwards’s return was the big talking point leading up to this match, but this week has seen scrums move to the top of the agenda.
Wales prop Wyn Jones’s claims that France will “hit and chase and cheat” at scrum time has been met with strong retorts from the French camp. Team manager Rapahel Ibanez described it as “a blatant, childish attack” before throwing shade back in Wales’ direction.
“We could also question the fate of their fly-half, who has been knocked out several times since the World Cup but has been going through (concussion) protocol after protocol managed by the Welsh federation,” Ibanez said in reference to Dan Biggar.
For their part, Wales consulted a “globally renowned concussion expert” to review Biggar’s return after he failed an HIA in the defeat by Ireland in Dublin.
Enough of the pre-match press conferences, what can we expect of the Test itself? France may have had two relatively comfortable wins so far, but they have shown frailties too – letting a big lead slip against England and leaking three tries against Italy.
They will bring plenty of physicality to Cardiff and will be looking to target Wales at the breakdown, particularly as Ireland profited in that area two weeks ago.
Wales need to look after the ball better when going into contact, ensuring the support is there to deliver quick ball and thwart any counter rucks or turnover attempts. If they can do that, we should see more of the evolving attacking game on Saturday evening.
The hosts also need to exit their own 22 cleanly after errors in that area against Ireland resulted in tries conceded. And if Wales are caught defending as narrow as they were in Dublin expect Virimi Vakatawa and Gael Fickou to exploit that space.
Recent matches between these two sides have been tight – there was only one-point in it in the World Cup quarter-final – and there is little to suggest this game will be any different.
What’s the big team news?
Wales have made two changes to the team that lost to Ireland last time out. Gareth Davies comes in at scrum-half in place of Tomos Williams and Ross Moriarty is picked ahead of Aaron Wainwright at blindside. Will Rowlands is also in line to make his Test debut off the bench.
The significant news for France is the return of Virimi Vakatawa in midfield after he missed the win over Italy. Gael Fickou shifts out to the wing with Damian Penaud still injured and Vincent Rattez breaking his leg against Italy.
Those are the only changes to the starting team but there are several different faces on the bench. Hooker Camille Chat is fit to return among the replacements, Thomas Ramos is covering the outside backs while Jean-Baptiste Gros and Dylan Cretin are poised to win their first caps.
What have the coaches said?
Wales head coach Wayne Pivac: “Saturday is a big test for both teams. For us it’s to keep us alive in the championship and for France, it’s their first game away. It’s to keep ourselves alive and we are looking for a very big performance.”
France coach Fabien Galthie on allegations from the Wales camp about illegal scrummaging: “It’s a lack of respect towards our scrum, towards our team, towards French rugby, towards our nation.
“In the first two matches, their scrum collapsed 13 times and was penalised six times. We were penalised four times.”
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Any interesting statistics?
- The last six France-Wales matches have been decided by a margin of nine points or fewer.
- France (eight) and Wales (seven) have scored the most tries in this year’s championship.
- France are averaging 3.38 points per visit to the opposition’s 22 compared to Wales’ 2.63 in this year’s championship.
- France have made 54 dominant tackles in their campaign to date and Wales have made 33.
- Wales have won 100% of their mauls in this campaign compared to the tournament average of 83.3%.
- Bernard Le Roux has made the most tackles so far in this year’s Six Nations with 44. Justin Tipuric is the only other player to reach the 40-tackle mark.
What time does it kick off and is it on TV?
Wales v France, Saturday 22 February, Principality Stadium
This round three match kicks off at 4.45pm UK time and is live on BBC and S4C (UK) and Virgin Media (Ireland). There will also be live commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra and RTE in Ireland.
It’s an all-RFU team for this one with Matthew Carley referee, Wayne Barnes and Karl Dickson the assistants, and Graham Hughes the TMO.
What are the line-ups?
WALES: Leigh Halfpenny; George North, Nick Tompkins, Hadleigh Parkes, Josh Adams; Dan Biggar, Gareth Davies; Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Dillon Lewis, Jake Ball, Alun Wyn Jones (captain), Ross Moriarty, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau.
Replacements: Ryan Elias, Rob Evans, Leon Brown, Will Rowlands, Aaron Wainwright, Tomos Williams, Jarrod Evans, Johnny McNicholl.
FRANCE: Anthony Bouthier; Teddy Thomas, Virimi Vakatawa, Arthur Vincent, Gael Fickou; Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont; Cyril Baille, Julien Marchand, Mohamed Haouas, Bernard Le Roux, Paul Willemse, Francois Cros, Charles Ollivon (captain), Gregory Alldritt.
Replacements: Camille Chat, Jean-Baptiste Gros, Demba Bamba, Romain Taofifenua, Dylan Cretin, Baptiste Serin, Matthieu Jalibert, Thomas Ramos.
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