Planet Rugby

Preview: France v Wales

07th February 2013 22:12

Share:

Wesley Fofana France v Wales 2012

Wesley Fofana: Wasted on the wing?

Saturday's Six Nations clash at the Stade de France has turned into a must-win clash for both the hosts and the defending champions.

With trips to Twickenham and Lansdowne Road still on the menu, it's hard to see France - many pundits' pre-tournament favourites - claim the title after their misadventure in Rome last week. The Championship has taken on a completely different complexion for Philippe Saint-André, who must now regain the confidence of the French fans.

But PSA is not winning many friends with his current selection policy. We're amongst those who still cannot understand why his matchday 23 contains four centres, a wing at full-back and no specialist replacement for any of the back three. Wesley Fofana, the best centre in Europe at the moment, is stuck out on the wing where his involvement in the game is severely limited.

The Clermont try magnet, who was popping up in midfield against Italy out of pure frustration, has started voicing his dissatisfaction with the situation, saying he was getting "sick and tired of not getting the ball" against Italy and has vowed to move out of position in order to see more action "whether told to or not" if he doesn't get opportunities to use his talent. Those are not the kind of words the French staff will like hearing, and supporters of les Bleus can only hope the seed of discontent does not grow into the kind animosity that ended the Lièvremont era.

Before travelling to Italy, Saint-André complained that France had less preparation time than their opponents and his single back-line change for this week is supposed to be aimed at bringing more cohesion. But the plan of fielding an all-Toulon 10-12-13 combination fails at the first scratch of the surface since the players in question have never lined up in that configuration for their club: Fred Michalak has mostly been at 9 and Matt Giteau usually starts at 12 so Maxime Mermoz and Mathieu Bastareaud have very rarely played next to each other. Florian Fritz might feel a touch aggrieved to be relegated to the bench.

That said, it's understandable that the French staff are seeking to align players that are familiar with each other after the whopping 16 handling errors and France's chronic inability to reorganise themselves after more than a few phases in Rome. Sure, Italy were fantastic but France were a shadow of the team that set November alight. Word from inside the camp is that some stern words have been spoken, so the pack is expected to show a lot more urgency and intensity this week.

For Wales, who have now lost eight in row, the situation is far more dire. It's been eight years since they won in Paris and another defeat in the French capital would mean they will have to travel to Rome in the next round under enormous pressure. Last year's Grand Slam must seem like a lifetime ago.

Their second-half performance against the Irish offered plenty of reason for hope but the fact that they reached the interval 20-odd points behind reflects very poorly on the state of mind of those in red when they took the field.

It's hard to pinpoint exactly where things have gone awry. You can't fault the Welsh staff for sticking to systems that brought success over the last few years since none of those eights defeats were crushing results. But losing becomes a habit and it's impossible to suddenly re-inject the confidence that has slowly been drained out of the side over the past twelve months.

France will see last week's disaster as a wake up call and will be able fall back on the confidence created during their end-of-year winning streak. Although they have a more experienced side (575 caps in their starting XV compared to France's 385), Wales have no such well to draw from. The harsh truth is, the Stade de France is the last place in Europe Rob Howley would want to be taking his team right now.

Ironically, Howley is Wales' most successful captain in terms of win ratio. He will need all his leadership skills to remind his team of what winning feels like. In case the Welsh forgot, the last time they tasted victory over a Test nation was against...France.

Players to watch:

For France: Mathieu Bastareaud makes his first start since 2010. His waistline certainly hasn't gotten any smaller but he has grown in maturity. Nicknamed the 'Bulldozer' by the French press, his sheer power and weight mean he almost always gets over the gainline and it usually requires a handful of defenders to bring him down. Will this mark his grand return? Scrum-half Maxime Machenaud was heavily criticised after the loss to Italy, with his inability to get the best out of the French pack under the spotlight. With the 'Little General' Morgan Parra waiting in the wings, Machenaud cannot afford to not impose himself on the game.

For Wales: After an impressive season at regional level, Justin Tipuric gets a rare chance to show what he can do at openside in the absence of Sam Warburton. Once considered one of the best looseheads in the world, Genthin Jenkins' place in the Welsh starting side is under threat, no doubt a result of his lack of game time at Toulon. One of just two survivors from the team that won in Paris in 2005 (Adam Jones is the other), Wales desperately need Jenkins to find his best form. Jamie Roberts wins his 50th Test cap on Saturday.

Head-to-head: Ryan Jones extends his Wales record as skipper, captaining his country for the 30th time with a 52 percent win ratio. Thierry Dusautoir leads France for the 32nd time and is closing in fast on Jean-Pierre Rives and Philippe Saint-André, who both skippered France on 34 occasions (Fabien Pelous holds the French record with 42). Neither loose trio shone last week and both will look to their respective returning captains to lead by example.

Previous results:2012: Wales won 16-9 at Millennium Stadium
2011: France won 9-8 at Eden Park
2011: France won 28-9 at Stade de France
2010: France won 26-20 at Millennium Stadium
2009: France won 21-16 at Stade de France
2008: Wales won 29-12 at Millennium Stadium
2007: France won 34-7 at Millennium Stadium
2007: France won 32-21 at Stade de France
2006: France won 21-16 at Millennium Stadium
2005: Wales won 24-18 at Stade de France
2004: France won 29-22 at Millennium Stadium
2003: France won 33-5 at Stade de France
2002: France won 37-33 at Millennium Stadium
2001: Wales won 35-43 at Stade de France
2000: France won 36-3 at Millennium Stadium

Prediction: It's very hard to back Wales these days and beating France in Paris seems like a tall order. We reckon Wales will come close again, but still no cigar. France by eight points.

Rugby Union betting odds

The teams:

France: 15 Yoann Huget, 14 Wesley Fofana, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 Benjamin Fall, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Fulgence Ouedraogo, 6 Thierry Dusautoir, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Jocelino Suta, 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski, 1 Yannick Forestier
Replacements: 16 Benjamin Kayser, 17 Vincent Debaty, 18 Luc Ducalcon, 19 Romain Taofifenua, 20 Damien Chouly, 21 Morgan Parra, 22 Francois Trinh-Duc, 23 Florian Fritz.

Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 George North, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Ryan Jones (c), 5 Ian Evans, 4 Andrew Coombs, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Paul James, 18 Craig Mitchell, 19 Lou Reed, 20 Aaron Shingler, 21 Lloyd Williams, 22 James Hook, 23 Scott Williams.

Date: Saturday, February 9
Venue: Stade de France, St. Denis (Paris)
Kick-off: 18.00 local (17.00 GMT)
Weather: 3° C, chances of light rain
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Alain Rolland (Ireland), Francisco Pastrana (Argentina)
Television match official: Giulio De Santis (Italy)

By Ross Hastie

Forthcoming Fixtures
FixtureDetails
All times are local
Aviva Premiership
Friday , September 5
Northampton vs Gloucester19:45
Saturday , September 6
Saracens vs Wasps14:00
Sale vs Bath14:00
Leicester vs Newcastle15:00
London Irish vs Harlequins16:30
Sunday , September 7
London Welsh vs Exeter14:00
More Aviva Premiership fixtures
Rugby Championship
Saturday , September 6
New Zealand vs Argentina08:35
Australia vs South Africa11:05
More Rugby Championship fixtures
Guinness PRO12
Friday , September 5
Ospreys vs Benetton Treviso19:35
Munster vs Edinburgh19:35
Saturday , September 6
Scarlets vs Ulster14:40
Connacht vs Newport Gwent D'gons17:00
Glasgow vs Leinster17:15
Sunday , September 7
Zebre vs Cardiff Blues17:00
More Guinness PRO12 fixtures
Top 14
Friday , September 5
Montpellier vs Castres20:45
Saturday , September 6
Brive vs Toulouse14:45
Clermont Auvergne vs Racing Metro Paris17:00
Lyon vs Oyonnax18:30
Stade Francais vs Bayonne18:30
Grenoble vs La Rochelle18:30
Toulon vs Bordeaux-Begles20:45
More Top 14 fixtures
Currie Cup
Friday , September 5
Western Province vs Eastern Province Kings19:10
Saturday , September 6
Cheetahs vs Pumas15:00
Sharks vs Griquas17:05
Blue Bulls vs Lions19:10
More Currie Cup fixtures
Recent Results
FixtureDetails
All times are local
ITM Cup
Sunday , August 31
Taranaki 41 - 3 Bay Of PlentyTaranaki vs Bay Of Plenty Report
Auckland 16 - 16 TasmanAuckland vs Tasman Report
More ITM Cup results
Top 14
Saturday , August 30
La Rochelle 37 - 25 ToulouseLa Rochelle vs Toulouse Report
Grenoble 37 - 23 Bordeaux-Begles
Oyonnax 33 - 6 Stade Francais
Castres 30 - 6 BayonneCastres vs Bayonne Report
Racing Metro Paris 17 - 10 ToulonRacing Metro Paris vs Toulon Report
Lyon 24 - 6 Brive
More Top 14 results
Currie Cup
Griquas 25 - 36 CheetahsGriquas vs Cheetahs Report
Eastern Province Kings 22 - 41 LionsEastern Province Kings vs Lions Report
Blue Bulls 18 - 23 Western ProvinceBlue Bulls vs Western Province Report
More Currie Cup results
ITM Cup
Counties Manukau 21 - 27 Hawkes BayCounties Manukau vs Hawkes Bay Report
Southland 22 - 33 Otago
North Harbour 16 - 22 WaikatoNorth Harbour vs Waikato Report
More ITM Cup results
Top 14
Friday , August 29
Clermont Auvergne 20 - 21 MontpellierClermont Auvergne vs Montpellier Report
More Top 14 results
Currie Cup
Pumas 32 - 22 SharksPumas vs Sharks Report
More Currie Cup results
ITM Cup
Wellington 21 - 27 ManawatuWellington vs Manawatu Report
Thursday , August 28
Canterbury 48 - 3 NorthlandCanterbury vs Northland Report
Wednesday, August 27
Waikato 17 - 46 TaranakiWaikato vs Taranaki Report
Sunday , August 24
Manawatu 7 - 35 AucklandManawatu vs Auckland Report
Bay Of Plenty 27 - 56 TasmanBay Of Plenty vs Tasman Report
More ITM Cup results
Rugby Championship
Saturday , August 23
New Zealand 51 - 20 AustraliaNew Zealand vs Australia Report
Argentina 31 - 33 South AfricaArgentina vs South Africa Report
More Rugby Championship results
Top 14
Brive 6 - 21 Clermont AuvergneBrive vs Clermont Auvergne Report
Bayonne 38 - 12 Oyonnax
More Top 14 results
Aviva Premiership Table
PosTeamPPts
1Bath00
2Exeter00
3Gloucester00
4Harlequins00
5Leicester Tigers00