Date: 19th March 2011
Kick-off: 19:45 (GMT)
Venue: Stade de France
The Championship may or may not be a possibility come Saturday night for Wales, however their game against a French side, still reeling from an embarrassing humbling in Rome, still promises to be an intriguing battle.
The rugby gods were most definitely smiling on Wales last week. For all the effort they put into the eighty minutes, it would have been highly unlikely that they would have etched out a win, without a moment of inept officiating and a highly accurate ball boy. On the other hand though, perhaps it was a piece of long overdue luck. Chris White’s final whistle in Rome four years ago was equally as unjust. Either way it was a massive relief for Wales to end a barren stretch of results against teams ranked above them in the world. With that monkey off their back, and a third straight win, the tide appears to have turned for Warren Gatland as Wales coach. While there may be clear flaws in the Welsh performance, in particular a lack of creativity, there appear to be solid foundations that can be built on, in particular an outstanding defence.
Even by their own high standards, this week has been absurd for Les Bleus. After Marc Lièvremont’s outburst at his own players’ lack of courage in the wake of defeat to Italy, had the coach announced the appointment of the manager of France at the last Football World Cup – Raymond Domenech – to win back the changing room, few people would have even bothered raising an eyebrow. Last Saturday was an undoubted disaster for the French. The ultimate confidence team in sport crumbled under the Roman sunshine, finding themselves scratching their heads for answers as to how they were defeated by the supposed whipping boys of a competition in which they claimed a Grand Slam less than twelve months ago. To say that France will be hurting is an understatement.
What to expect:
The French response to the events of the last week will be the most fascinating aspect of Saturday’s game. Has Lièvremont lost the dressing room, or will his players be stirred into proving a point? Either way an injection of fresh faces and the long overdue dropping of Sebastian Chabal mean we are likely to see a very different French team. Wales have surpassed all expectations in this year’s championship, in terms of results, but what Warren Gatland really needs now is a performance to go with the result. The men in red have always struggled at the set piece against France, so expect to see the home side target Wales at scrum time and at the lineout.
All eyes on:
George North enjoyed a dream start to his Wales career in the autumn, prior to finding himself sidelined through injury. Now the eighteen-year-old faces a Six Nations baptism of fire, not made any easier by his lack of rugby since bursting onto the international scene.
Trying to understand the thinking behind why Imanol Harinordoquy was second choice to Sebastien Chabal at number eight for France is hard to fathom. ‘Harry Ordinary’ has proved himself a player of world class, one who thrives on the big occasion, and Les Blues will be looking for an inspired display from the Basque player.
Head to Head: Adam Jones v Thomas Domingo
Arguably two of the best scrummagers in world rugby, the battle up front between these two is going to be pivotal to who can gain the advantage up front. Jones is back from an elbow injury that has seen him sidelined for all the Championship so far so will be up against his recalled opponent.
Don’t expect a classic Welsh victory like in 1999 and 2005, but I believe momentum built up in this year’s championship will just give Wales the edge against a France side that are desperately lacking stability. Wales by 2