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Wales v France - Match Preview


By Craig Muncey
February 25 2016

Tomorrow night the French come to town, can Wales record a victory against Guy Noves Les Bleus team? I look into the team selection, where I see the strengths and weaknesses in the team, and finally my match prediction. Hope you enjoy.  

Wales v France - Match Preview

 

Team News

Starting off with the home team, Warren Gatland has made the decision to bring back into the fold, Cardiff Blues winger Alex Cuthbert who replaces Cardiff Blues winger Tom James.  Both players, had an outing for Cardiff Blues on Saturday against Leinster, which in some circles was earmarked as a shoot out between the two players, Cuthbert made one clean break, and a decent offload, and James spent a lot of his time on the pitch in the centre, when unfortunate Cory Allen had to be replaced.  Gatland has decided to go with Cuthbert, is reported that Gatland has concerns over James pace to be an international winger, with the match against Scotland illustrating this when caught by Duncan Taylor the Scottish centre.  There is no doubt in my mind that Cuthbert has faster straight line speed than James, but James is a much better footballer and has a much better kicking game, and on form James would have been my choice.

Another reason why I feel they have gone with Cuthbert is that George North has performed much better when playing on the left wing for Wales and Northampton, than when had outings on the right wing, so in a close contest between James and Cuthbert, has opted for the recognised right winger which is Cuthbert.

The rest of the Welsh backline is the same that started last week, there is two changes in the pack with Bradley Davies replacing injured Luke Charteris, and also Da Lydiate returning to his role at blindside flanker, with Sam Warburton moving across to openside, Justin Tipuric being relegated to a role off the bench. 

Wales have opted for the tried and trusted back row, with Lydiate looking to stop any momentum in the French play on the gainline and then hoping that the more muscular, physical approach of Warburton at 7, is then able to have a positive effect at the breakdown, with Tipuric if the game opens up in the final quarter, being able to come on and show his outstanding rugby skills on the front foot.

In terms of the Welsh bench, I do not understand the balance of having Gareth Anscombe and Rhys Priestland on the same bench? For me covers same positions and would much rather have one or the other, and then have Tom James, or Hallam Amos or even Matthew Morgan on the bench, more variety and more options, but clearly not in the view of the coaching staff and they are the ones that count.

France have a few changes in their side, Virimi Vakatawa, the exciting new winger, switches to the right wing, with Djibril Camara from Stade Francais making his debut on the left wing. Maxime Machenaud comes in at scrum half.  In the pack, Jefferson Poirot starts at loosehead, Rabah Slimani at tight head and Paul Jedrasiak coming into the second row.  Backrow sees two changes, with Antoine Burban and Wenceslas Lauret on the flanks.

French bench has some variety particularly in the backs, with Sebastian Bezy, the returning Francois Trinh-Duc and Gael Fickou.

Things To Look Out For

Wales have made noises about playing a fast tempo and attacking out wide, I have to be honest, I am not too convinced this will happen, I can see, Roberts, Cuthbert and North being sent into the midfield areas, trying to suck in defenders, couple of pick and go's from the likes of Bradley Davies and Rob Evans, and then and only then, if numbers allow, Wales to go wide.

Scrum time, Rob Evans will have another test on his hands with Rabah Slimani, a strong tight head from Stade Francais, Wales will hope Evans wll come through the test likes he has in previous 6 nations matches.  Line out time will be interesting to see how that unfolds, without French club player Luke Charteris being there.  Just his sheer presence at line out time, stops teams going often to the front, and his defensive skills at the maul, are as strong as any lock in world rugby.

Back row battle as always will be interesting, the French I think have a good blend playing tomorrow, and Damien Chouly, is playing in hs best position at 8. Burban and Lauret are good players, who can ball carry and be a nuisance at the breakdown, so the Welsh breakaway trio will have to be on their game.

Centre battle for gainline advantage will make a good viewing, Roberts and Davies will look to power there way forward whilst Maxime Mermoz will look to offload and play Jonathan Danty into gaps, again, the French centres could make a useful partnership, with the styles of the two players.

Wales will be looking for Gareth Davies to be sharper than last match, and his battle with Machenaud could be quite feisty.  Wales will hope another two weeks has given Biggar more recovery time and has his old sharpness back, and France will hope that Jules Plisson will be able to handle the artillery coming his way from Roberts and others. Plisson has looked very assured last few matches, and is progressing nicely.

The French back three are very inexperienced as a unit, and I am sure Biggar will look to test this, Camara makes his debut in the cauldron of noise that is The Principality Stadium, and Vakatawa is inexperienced at 15 man rugby making is name in sevens, so expect Biggar to try to turn them around or cross kicks to test them out.  Having said that fully expect Plisson for France to try to turn around North and in particular Cuthbert, with rolling kicks to the corners, trying to keep the ball in play, to force the two wingers to either kick under pressure or try to get to ground to create a ruck where France can try to force a turnover or penalty.

Match Prediction

As mentioned in the piece above, I like the look of the French side, with a number of changes I feel strengthens the side, however, with the experience Wales have in their side, home advantage and I feel Wales will revert to a more forceful straight running game, rather than going lateral which we certainly saw against Ireland, I am going for a Welsh victory.

Wales by 5 points.

 

 

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Wales v France - Match Review
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