All down to last game for France
SIX NATIONS SPOTLIGHT: France captain Guilhem Guirado has insisted that his team is focused on putting in a complete performance to avoid a sixth straight defeat by Wales after a topsy-turvy Six Nations and with the Top 14 in turmoil.
French professional rugby was thrown into disarray this week when a proposed merger between Paris rivals Racing 92 and Stade Francais was announced. But Guirado said the focus of the squad, including six players from the two clubs, had not been on the fallout of the bombshell news.
"Obviously, we spoke about it because it was the hot topic, but we did just that. We took a step back. We know there are situations that are a little bit tough to live through. But that's rugby, it's been evolving for quite a few years.
"We've stayed focused on the match since Tuesday. These are things that we cannot manage. We let our bosses take care of that situation," the Toulon hooker said.
Guirado also stressed that the fact that the Wales game was France's last chance to consolidate their rankings ahead of the May 10 draw for the 2019 World Cup in Japan had not been used as motivation.
"Not at all, we've not spoken about it. We remain focused on the tournament which has been long and tough.
"We've played some good matches, some very good parts of matches, but we've lacked consistency and regularity. So we're going to focus on being the most accurate possible for the 80 minutes of the match against Wales," he added.
France currently sit one place ahead of Wales in the Six Nations table on points difference, in third, having lost to England (16-19) and Ireland (9-19), sandwiched around a victory over Scotland (22-16) before their 40-18 romp over the Italians last weekend.
However, should England triumph in Ireland and Wales beat Les Bleus by 15 points or more, then the latter will be destined to dropping out of the top eight, meaning a potentially tougher pool come 2019.
"This 2017 tournament has been particularly homogenous. Two sides have detached themselves: England, unbeaten, and Italy who remain winless. But mid-table is very tight. From second to fifth place, it all comes down to the last match."
"Wales have one of the best defences in Europe, even the world. There are very few deficiencies. We know it will be complicated, that we must be patient, keep the ball, that try-scoring chances will be slim and that we mustn't, above all, spurn them as we've done recently," Guirado said.
France coach Guy Noves also hailed the Shaun Edwards-coached defence of a Wales side that has also racked up two wins, over Italy (33-7) and Ireland (22-9), and two defeats, by England (16-21) and Scotland (13-29).
"They smothered their opponents, I don't want to go down smothered like that," said Noves, praising in particular last weekend's Welsh performance against Ireland, when they ran out victors by three tries to one.
"Ireland, who play a pretty pragmatic brand of rugby, with little wastage, lost very few balls - as opposed to us - but weren't able to cross the try-line. That shows the defensive quality of Wales."