Date: 17th March 2012
Venue: Millennium Stadium
Referee: Craig Joubert
Captain Sam Warburton returns to lead the Welsh charge towards a third Grand Slam in eight years. Justin Tipuric is unlucky to miss out on the match-day side completely as a result, but other than that the starting side is unchanged. Ten of the starters have played every match in this Six Nations and the consistency in selection has undoubtedly helped Warren Gatland’s men. But while they have a chance of making history in Cardiff on Saturday, they know they must hugely improve on their performance against Italy – who they beat rather less convincingly than most would have expected.
What a disappointing tournament from a French perspective. Despite one of the richest squads available, France simply failed to wake up in the first half against Ireland, before three lapses in defence saw England steal a victory in Paris. Combine that with the selection merry-go-round at half-back and they have been wildly inconsistent. As a result, a raft of changes have been made for Saturday’s match in Cardiff, as Phillipe Saint-André looks to give some of the side’s elder statesmen in William Servat and Julien Bonnaire a perfect send off.
What to Expect:
TJ: Philippe Saint-Andre’s decision to move Florian Fritz into inside centre says a lot about the coach’s intentions of a big midfield battle. If Wales can win quick ball, expect fly-half Rhys Priestland to use his formidable runners to gain initiative. After a quiet start to the tournament, Alex Cuthbert has followed George North’s lead in recent weeks and the French will have to quickly improve their faltering defensive line to stop these two juggernauts, as well as Jamie Roberts and Jon Davies – quite imposing players themselves.
BC: With Fritz in the centre France lose that pace of Wesley Fofana at first receiver. Moving him onto the wing suggests that he is defensively weak, which is far from the truth. Servat’s inclusion strengthens the scrum as France look to starve Wales of possession, but the truth is it will take a mammoth defensive effort which we are yet to see them produce in this championship.
All Eyes On: Adam Jones & William Servat
Since returning from injury Jones has performed well for Wales this Six Nations. The Welsh scrum has been solid and he’s been his usual busy self in the loose, but expect him to face a different test against France in the form of Jean-Baptiste Poux. The destructive loosehead will be manfully supported by William Servat, playing his final international before retiring at the end of the season, and David Attoub, returning from a 70-week ban for gouging Stephen Ferris. Undoubtedly Jones’ credentials as a world class scrummager will truly be tested.
Meanwhile starting his final match at hooker for his country, Servat wins his 49th cap against Wales this weekend. It seems odd that a player of his quality has not earned more, but what is in no doubt is that over the last two to three years alongside Bismarck du Plessis, the new Toulouse forwards coach has been the best in the world. Eternally reliable at the set-piece, with fantastic handling skills and bursts of strength, the Test arena will miss his presence.
Head-to-Head: Sam Warburton v Thierry Dusautoir
Despite an injury-ravaged tournament, Warburton has excelled at times for Wales and will again look to be the opposition’s scourge at the breakdown. Justin Tipuric impressed last week, and was arguably Wales’ best player, but Warburton brings a huge presence that was sorely missed as they eventually overcame the challenge of Italy. There is also an element of unfinished business for the Welsh captain, after his infamous red against France in the World Cup semi-final defeat.
Understated, humble yet consistently excellent. Dusautoir made an astonishing 25 tackles against Scotland in Round Two, and whilst the number of hits made may not have matched that in the other games this tournament, his intensity has never wavered. Looks every inch the IRB Player of the Year, but he will need to be immense to slow Wales down in Cardiff.
With another Grand Slam triumph in the balance and vengeance on their minds after the World Cup, Wales will be too strong for France – especially in the back division. Wales by 6. TJ
If France had won their last two matches and were heading for a Grand Slam shootout, then this would have been a lot harder to predict. But drawing with Ireland and losing to England has taken a bit of the spice out of tomorrow’s match. Wales have been the best side throughout this tournament and deservedly should win the Grand Slam. Wales by 5. BC
by Tom James & Ben Coles