Welsh Dragons To Breathe Fire Over French
Frances v Wales
Wales travel to Paris this weekend in search of a second win over an out-of-form French side desperate to get their championship back on track.
France have continued to put in some poor performances under Philippe Saint-Andre in recent months, losing to Wales, Ireland and Argentina, and haven’t been too convincing in either 6 Nations assignment so far. They couldn’t score a try against Scotland, relying on the boot of fly-half Camille Lopez to earn a seven point victory, and they never looked like beating Ireland in a bruising game in Dublin last time.
After earning a long-awaited victory over southern hemisphere opponents in their final autumn international, Wales were brought back down to earth in their opening 6 Nations game, losing a ferocious contest to a weakened England side at the Millennium Stadium. They recovered from that disappointment with a much improved display to beat Scotland in Edinburgh and keep their title hopes alive.
Rory Kockott’s injury means the French number nine shirt is up for grabs, and it was expected that Morgan Parra would fill in, but the Clermont scrum-half sustained a blow to his tibia in a Top 14 game against Racing Metro and it is not yet clear if he will be fit in time.
The return of George North means that Welsh coach Warren Gatland had a tough decision to make about the composition of the Welsh back three, but has gone with North, Liam Williams and Leigh Halfpenny, meaning there is no place for Alex Cuthbert.
Samson Lee is fit again and will come in at tight-head prop, Scott Baldwin will make his 6 Nations debut at hooker and Luke Charteris is back in the second row.
Head to Head
France have the edge in their 6 Nations rivalry with Wales, having won nine of their fifteen encounters but the Welsh have dominated their recent meetings, winning their last three, including last year’s 27-6 thrashing at the Millennium Stadium in which France trailed 20-6 at half-time and were completely outplayed.
But despite these recent set-backs, the French can draw some confidence from their strong record in Paris. They’ve won three of their last four games against Wales at the Stade de France, including a 19 point victory in the last meeting with Wales in a World Cup year.
France are a dour team these days, seemingly content to rely on a powerful pack and a relentless kicking game. When they do try to play with ball in hand, as they did in the second half against Scotland, they tend to opt for powerful runs from the back-row forwards, rather than the more expansive game you expect from French sides.
But Wales will not be complaining. With a powerful pack of their own, and one of the best kickers in international rugby on their side, they can match whatever the French throw at them. The home side are favourites, but I think the visitors will emerge with the points. Back Wales at 13/10 in the Match Betting market.