Six Nations 2015: France vs Wales Preview

Everything you need to know as Wales head to Paris in search of a second win to keep their slim title hopes alive

By Gareth Llewellyn

Kick-off and TV/Radio coverage

Saturday 28 February 2015, Stade de France, Paris. Kick-off 17:00 GMT. Live TV coverage on BBC 1 and S4C across the UK, RTÉ in Ireland. Live radio coverage on BBC 5 Live.

Who’s the man with the whistle?

South African referee Jaco Peyper takes charge of his third Six Nations match, supported by England’s JP Doyle and Italy’s Marius Mitrea. Ireland’s Simon McDowell is on TMO duties for the third successive match involving Wales.

What’s the team news?

France: France head coach Philippe Saint-André has made five changes to his starting XV with four of the changes coming in the back division.

Toulon powerhouse Mathieu Bastareaud is replaced by Castres’ Rémi Lamerat at outside centre as Bordeaux-Bègles’ winger Sofiane Guitoune replaces the injured Teddy Thomas on the left wing and Racing Métro’s Brice Dulin returns at full-back in place of Scott Spedding with his fellow South African Rory Kockott replaced at scrum-half by Clermont Auvergne’s Morgan Parra.

Despite France’s front-row replacements having a notable impact in the second half against the Irish in Dublin, the only change up front is enforced with Toulon lock Romain Taofifénua replacing Pascal Papé, who was banned for 10-weeks after kneeing Ireland number eight Jamie Heaslip in the back during that defeat in Dublin.

Wales: Warren Gatland sprang a surprise with four changes to his starting XV. Scarlets full-back/wing Liam Williams keeps his place in the back three with George North replacing Alex Cuthbert on the right wing.

Up front, Scarlets tighthead prop Samson Lee returns after sitting out round two through concussion, while Ospreys hooker Scott Baldwin is preferred to Richard Hibbard as Gatland opts for the front row that started in the 12-6 win over South Africa in November.

The final change sees Luke Charteris return to the second row in place of Jake Ball who, like Cuthbert, misses out altogether this week.

Wasps lock Bradley Davies is the only new face on the bench.

What are the line-ups?

France: Brice Dulin (Racing Métro); Yohann Huget (Toulouse), Rémi Lamerat (Castres), Wesley Fofana (Clermont Auvergne), Sofiane Guitoune (Bordeaux-Bègles); Camille Lopez (Clermont Auvergne), Morgan Parra (Clermont Auvergne); Eddy Ben Arous (Racing Métro), Guilhem Guirado (Toulon), Rabbah Slimani (Stade Français), Romain Taofifénua (Toulon), Yohann Maestri (Toulouse), Thierry Dusautoir (Toulouse, captain), Bernard Le Roux (Racing Métro), Damien Chouly (Clermont Auvergne).

Replacements: Benjamin Kayser (Clermont Auvergne), Uini Atonio (La Rochelle), Vincent Debaty (Clermont Auvergne), Jocelino Suta (Toulon), Loann Goujon (La Rochelle), Sébastien Tillous-Borde (Toulon), Rémi Talès (Castres), Mathieu Bastareaud (Toulon).

Wales: Leigh Halfpenny (Toulon); George North (Northampton Saints), Jonathan Davies (Clermont Auvergne), Jamie Roberts (Racing Métro), Liam Williams (Scarlets); Dan Biggar (Ospreys), Rhys Webb (Ospreys); Gethin Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), Scott Baldwin (Ospreys), Samson Lee (Scarlets), Luke Charteris (Racing Métro), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys), Dan Lydiate (Ospreys), Sam Warburton (Cardiff Blues, captain), Taulupe Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons).

Replacements: Richard Hibbard (Gloucester Rugby), Paul James (Bath Rugby), Aaron Jarvis (Ospreys), Bradley Davies (Wasps), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys); Mike Phillips (Racing Métro), Rhys Priestland (Scarlets), Scott Williams (Scarlets).

Who are the players to watch this week?

France: A few contenders for France, but undoubtedly the biggest danger for Wales comes from the magician Morgan Parra, finally returned to scrum-half alongside Clermont Auvergne half-back partner Camille Lopez. They may not have quite the same impact as their Ospreys counterparts have had so far this season, but it is a potent partnership that many in France have been demanding. Whether it is his kicking game, dangerous running and all-round experience and ability to deceive, or even his occasional lapses in discipline, Parra should have a big say in the outcome of this match.

Wales: On the other side, Northampton Saints wing George North has a point to prove. He’s 50 not out in international rugby at the age of 22 and not in the greatest of form for Wales. Preferred to his usual wing partner Alex Cuthbert and operating from the right rather than left wing this time, North has to prove he can still produce the goods for Wales. He needs to come into midfield more rather than having an easy ride out wide. Came up trumps in Paris two years ago with a superb late score, which also involved a one-man pitch invasion from his father, and with all the attention he’s a good tip to come good if Wales can get him plenty of service and get him attacking the gainline with France having made a number of changes in key positions across their backline.

What do the teams make of this match?

France captain, Thierry Dusautoir: “The aim is to see a liberated French team who are enjoying themselves.

“I think what is frustrating everyone, players, coaches, fans, is to see and feel that this team has a lot more to offer.

“We know its potential, which is whey everyone is a bit disappointed with our performances.

“We’re not managing to completely express ourselves. Being able to free yourselves is part of top level rugby.

“The teams that manage to do that are rigorous and aware of what they’re doing, without that being a straight jacket.”

Wales captain, Sam Warburton:“It will be an awesome game. I’ve only played 15-20 minutes out in France because I got injured four years ago and two years ago I missed it because of a nerve problem in my shoulder.

“So I am really looking forward to it because I’ve never had a good hit-out in Paris.

“I don’t think France have played much rugby, but I think it could change against us.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if they went wide and we have to be prepared for a few different game-plans.”

What happened last time they met?

Wales’ last visit to the French capital saw George North finish off a superb move late in the game for a 16-6 win and they comprehensively demolished Les Bleus 27-6 in a Friday night game in Cardiff 12 months ago.

How did they get on last time out?

France: Went down to Ireland 18-11 in Dublin. Romain Taofifénua bagged the only try of the match, with Camille Lopez kicking two penalties.

Johnny Sexton landed five penalties with Ian Madigan slotting the other as France’s defence kept Ireland out.

Wales: Bounced back from their defeat to England in the opening round with an impressive performance in Edinburgh against Scotland. Tries for Rhys Webb and Jonathan Davies with Leigh Halfpenny adding 16 from the tee.

Did well to keep Scotland at bay when under pressure, but were disappointed to conceded a last-minute try, which made the score closer than it should have been. Discipline remains an issue for Gatland.

Anything I may have missed?

France have lost just once at the Stade de France in their last five RBS 6 Nations games in Paris. Their only defeat was last year’s championship-deciding 22-20 win by Ireland.

Gatland could lead Wales to a rare four wins in a row over the French if they can leave Paris with a second win in the championship – a feat they have not achieved for almost 60 years, although the Kiwi was on sabbatical with the British and Irish Lions in 2013, with assistant Rob Howley in charge of the Wales team that year.

The French have the most potent lineout, winning 29 times and losing just three, with lock Yoann Maestri claiming eight catches, but Alun Wyn Jones has bagged 11 against England and Scotland.

Wales have conceded 26 penalties in their opening two rounds.

Referee Jaco Peyper has made a noisy start to his Six Nations career, dishing our two yellow cards and two red cards in his first two matches. Scotland prop Geoff Cross was sin-binned in the final minute of their 34-10 win over Italy in 2013, while Rabah Slimani and Michele Rizzo were red carded just a minute after Sébastien Vahaamahina was yellow carded in the 70th minute of France’s 30-10 over Italy in 2014.

Cardiff Blues flanker Sam Warburton equals Ryan Jones’ record (33) for the number of appearances as Wales captain.

At 22, Northampton Saints wing George North becomes the youngest player to reach 50 Test caps, with 47 for Wales and three for the British and Irish Lions.

What do the bookies make of the match?

The home side go into the match as narrow favourites, probably based on home form more than the rugby that France have been playing recently.

Our man Paddy Power is offering France at 4/6, Italy at 13/10, the draw at 20/1.

Odds stated are correct at time of publication and subject to change.

Prediction

France haven’t really impressed for much of this championship so far, while Wales have started well in matches, but made things difficult for themselves through ill-discipline. The Stade de France may be a tough place to go and win, but Wales did so on their last visit when not given much of a chance and have players, including George North back with a point to prove. Another narrow away win is likely.

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