WESTWOOD, CA – We are under three hours away from the first Friday fixture of the 2016 RBS 6 Nations and the tension couldn’t be any higher as Wales in France set out to claim first spot at the top of the table. Just one point separates the two squads as they enter Round 3, and two weeks of rest and recuperation should turn this fixture into the showstopper everyone is expecting. Will it be Warren Gatland and his hard-hitting Welshmen in front of the boisterous Millennium faithful or will Guy Noves’ France continue their perfect run of form in this year’s championship? Get yourself prepared for round three’s opening picture as RugbyWrapUp previews Wales vs. France at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. The weekend’s other fixture previews and our Experts Panel Picks will be out shortly!
Wales vs. France
Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
Millennium Roof Status: Closed
5 years it’s been since the French were victorious over the Welsh in RBS 6 Nations, 5 dreadful years that French head coach, Guy Noves, will eagerly look to bring to an end in the Welsh capital.
The French bring with them youthful exuberance and a growing sense of confidence after stopping stiff challenges from the Italians and the Irish to claim for second place in the tournament (England are only in first by points difference).
The Welsh, on the other hand, come into Friday’s action having not lost a game in the tournament and looking to step above the French and English into first place, or at least until the result of England’s fixture tomorrow turns out.
For Wales, Warren Gatland has made three changes to his that took on Scotland at the Millennium Stadium two weeks ago, replacing the injured Luke Charteris with Bradley Davies, recalling big man Dan Lydiate into the back row, and restoring Alex Cuthbert to the wing opposite George North (North managed over 100 m in his performance in Scotland). The performance of Cuthbert will be vital in providing his opposite winger with space and time to make breaks through the French defense (and vice versa).
The inclusion of Bradley Davies shouldn’t be too much of a concern for the Welsh, but the week-in, week-out good performances from Charteris always leaves the position vulnerable when substitutes are put on.
The French made five changes to the side that topped Ireland in Paris two weeks ago: Virimi Vakatawa coming in at #14, Djibril Camara coming into play opposite at Vakatawa #11, Rabah Slimani pulling the starting not for tight head, Alexandere Flanquart reclaiming is place at #5, and Antoine Burbon coming in at #7 flanker.
Noves has completely gutted Phillippe St. Andre’s Rugby World Cup squad, only two players surviving the massive overhaul in personnel. However, the wholesale changes seem to be paying off as they’ve gone undefeated so far. The real test will be today’s fixture as they certainly haven’t come up against a team that plays with the outstanding physicality that Wales does.
I think the win/lose factor for this game will be the performance of Jamie Roberts in the centre. He was absolutely brilliant again Scotland both on defense and offense, but his performance today will either crush the French attack in his tracks or create opportunities for opposition linebreaks. The French love to play attacking football and I have no doubt that their backs will see a good amount of possession today. Roberts will be vital to Wales’ chances of 6 Nations glory.