France v Wales - Teams and Prediction
PREVIEW – ROUND FIVE: Holders France host Wales in the Six Nations’ final round on Saturday with the two teams’ paths since the 2019 Rugby World Cup having taken very different directions.
In less than four years former Test captain Fabien Galthie has changed an underperforming Les Bleus by leading them to last year’s Six Nations Grand Slam and they have lost just once since July 2021, to world No.1 side Ireland last month.
Their impressive form and clinical performances were highlighted last weekend with a record 53-10 thumping over England in Twickenham.
“The match in England pleased us a lot,” Galthie said this week.
“We’re not going to hide that but we saw we had a lot to improve on.
“What’s good with that match was the intensity we played with opened doors and showed us we can play better,” he added.
Wales may have won the 2021 Six Nations under then new coach Wayne Pivac but the New Zealander was sacked last December and replaced by Warren Gatland after underwhelming defeats to the likes of Italy and Georgia.
Pivac’s compatriot Gatland returned after leading the national side for more than a decade, ending with a fourth-place finish at the World Cup in Japan.
Gatland’s side have won just once this campaign, in Italy last weekend, before the former British and Irish Lions boss rekindles a flame with former defence coach Shaun Edwards.
Edwards left Wales for Paris after the World Cup and has instilled a steely discipline to France’s play without the ball.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Gatland said.
“I’m sure he’ll be pretty pumped up this weekend,” he added.
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🇫🇷 Firepower in the French pack.#AwakenAnticipation | #FRAvWAL pic.twitter.com/7yIB8Ig3Gv
— Guinness Six Nations (@SixNationsRugby) March 16, 2023
Gatland’s matchday squad has a host of players aged 30 or over including captain Ken Owens, veteran lock Alun Wyn Jones and flyhalf Dan Biggar.
No.8 Taulupe Faletau turned 32 in November and will win his 100th cap in the French capital.
“If I look at the squad, going through it, there are up to eight players in there who are potentially playing their last Six Nations game,” Gatland said.
“We’ve got to think about building for the World Cup this year, but also thinking about 2027 [World Cup].
“The ideal scenario is you want to go to a World Cup with a squad of mid to late 20s with 40 or 50 caps.
“The message to them who might be playing their last Six Nations game is to enjoy the occasion and the moment,” he added.
Saturday’s hosts are in a different situation with Galthie’s squad averaging at 26 years old with 26 caps, a decade and 10 Tests fewer than the former scrumhalf hoped for after taking over in December 2019.
“We’re lagging compared to what we hoped to be four years later,” Galthie said.
“Even with our desire and vision to build collective experience, we lost a few players on the road, we had injuries too.
“We’re learning, but it’s slower than predicted,” he added.
The fixture will mark Les Bleus’ final home competitive game before welcoming New Zealand on September 8’s opening game of the World Cup.
They can retain the Championship with a bonus point victory and hope Ireland lose by more than seven points to England later in the day.
“Honestly we’re not looking ahead to anything but this competition,” Galthie said.
“We can still win the Six Nations. We know what we have to do.
“Then Sunday, we’ll move onto something else,” he added.
Players to watch:
For France: Captain and scrumhalf Antoine Dupont showed why he is one of the world’s best players in the match against England. He was lethal around the fringes and made excellent decisions with ball in hand. Centre Jonathan Danty is a powerhouse and will surely attract a few defenders to give his outside backs more space out wide. Fullback Thomas Ramos acts as a second playmaker in that backline with Romain Ntamack and the No.15 has an accurate boot on him as well. No.8 Gregory Alldritt is a monster in the physical exchanges and he is an extra line-out option as well. In the second row, Romain Taofifenua will have a big job on his hand trying to bring the same intensity that Paul Willemse has shown in previous games.
For Wales: Louis Rees-Zammit will surely bring another dimension to Wales’ attack with him playing at fullback. The midfield combination of George North and Nick Tompkins could be a thorn in France’s side, but they will need to click on attack for that to happen and inconsistency has been the name of the game for those two. Flyhalf Dan Biggar has become a bit predictable on attack, but a good performance in Paris could ignite something on attack. In the back row, Aaron Wainwright is not afraid to put his body on the line. He is an abrasive customer who can give France a few headaches. Veteran Lock Alun Wyn Jones is definitely playing his last Six Nations game on Saturday and it will be interesting to see if he has the fitness to go all the way in Paris.
@rugby365com: France by 21 points.
France: 15 Thomas Ramos, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Gael Fickou, 12 Jonathan Danty, 11 Ethan Dumortier, 10 Romain Ntamack, 9 Antoine Dupont (captain), 8 Gregory Alldritt, 7 Charles Ollivon, 6 Francois Cros, 5 Romain Taofifenua, 4 Thibaud Flament, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Julien Marchand, 1 Cyril Baille.
Replacements: 16 Peato Mauvaka, 17 Reda Wardi, 18 Sipili Falatea, 19 Bastien Chalureau, 20 Sekou Macalou, 21 Maxime Lucu, 22 Yoram Moefana, 23 Melvyn Jaminet.
Wales: 15 Louis Rees-Zammit, 14 Josh Adams, 13 George North, 12 Nick Tompkins, 11 Rio Dyer, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Aaron Wainwright, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Adam Beard, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ken Owens (captain), 1 Wyn Jones.
Replacements: 16 Bradley Roberts, 17 Gareth Thomas, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Dafydd Jenkins, 20 Tommy Reffell, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Owen Williams, 23 Leigh Halfpenny.
Date: Saturday, March 18
Venue: Stade de France, Paris
Kick-off: 15.45 (14.45 UK time, 14.45 GMT)
Expected weather: Partly cloudy with periods of showers with a high of 17°C and low of 10°C.
Referee: Nic Berry (Australia)
Assistant referees: Andrew Brace (Ireland), Christophe Ridley (England)
TMO: Joy Neville (Ireland)
AFP & @rugby365com