Date: 15th October 2011
Time: 09:00 BST (21:00 NZST)
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Referee: Alain Roland (IRE)
I don’t know about you, but last Saturday morning already feels like a lifetime ago. Well it certainly does as a Wales supporter anyway. Fortunately the long wait is nearly over, for what is quite simply the biggest game in Welsh rugby history. Imagine both recent grand slam deciders put together, and then some. It’s over twenty-four years since the men in red last reached the semi-finals, and that was at a time when the World Cup meant very little, in comparison to the pinnacle of rugby it is now. The hopes and expectations of a nation are resting on the shoulders of the fifteen Welshmen who take to the field at Eden Park.
The basket case of world rugby. Lose to Tonga one week and beat England the next. Are the coaches or senior players in charge? What exactly is Lievremont trying to achieve with his ‘tache? Is it all by accident or design? As ever with the French these questions have few logical answers. On paper they have a team that can beat anyone on their day, but such has been the disharmony, even by Les Blues standards, goodness knows what team will turn up. Although having said that, the underdog role, as shown last week, more than suits them.
What to Expect:
Wales will continue to try and play expansively, looking to push home their much-feted superior fitness. France on the other hand will be a bit more conservative, looking to take advantage of the bulk they possess up front, especially in the tight.
All Eyes On:
Losing Rhys Priestland to injury is a massive blow for Wales. Instead they have turned to James Hook. Having lost a player so integral to the recent upsurge in form, the pressure is all on one who for all his undoubted talent, has never made the number ten shirt his own.
As part of a rather unconventional half-back pairing with Morgan Parra continues, Dimitri Yachvilli still continues to dictate the tempo for France. However their Le Petit Generale has been an injury doubt all week, and question marks over his fitness will linger on Saturday.
Head-to-Head: The Back Rows
The battle at the breakdown will be as key as ever. Sam Warburton and Thierry Dusatoir are two of the best scavengers when it comes to the dark art of slowing or turning over ball. Both captains tend to set the tone for their respective sides, by leading by example.
Last fixture: France 28 Wales 9, Stade de France 19th March 2011
Weather Forecast: Cloudy, with the potentially showers.
It’s very difficult not to get carried away with the current success of this Wales team. However even the most pessimistic Welsh supporter would have to admit the current belief that Wales can make it to their first ever World Cup final, is built on something real. While I think France will rise to the occasion and make it as hard as possible, if ever there was a Wales team with the ability to write some of their own history, then this is it. Wales by 2 points.
by Paul French