Thursday, March 10, 2022

Andrew Baldock, PA Rugby Union Correspondent

France face the next challenge in their bid for a first Six Nations title and Grand Slam since 2010 when they tackle Wales on Friday.

Les Bleus head to Cardiff in confident mood after beating Ireland, Scotland and Italy, and opening up a three-point gap as tournament leaders.

Here’s a look at some of the key talking points ahead of an eagerly-awaited Principality Stadium encounter.

France in formidable form

France’s 12-year wait for Six Nations silverware will end if they beat Wales and then topple England in Paris next week. Not since the days of players like Clement Poitrenaud, Yannick Jauzion, Thierry Dusautoir and Imanol Harinordoquy have they conquered Europe, but odds are short on them achieving it this time around. Fabien Galthie’s team, mixing vibrant attack with fierce defence and immense physical power up-front, are unbeaten in six Tests this season. If they can cope with the expectation and pressure that now surrounds them, then Six Nations success is surely just around the corner.

Wales not fazed by the challenge

Wales’ hopes of a successful Six Nations title defence were effectively ended by a 23-19 defeat against England at Twickenham last time out. A strong second-half performance, though, saw them score three tries after trailing by 17 points, and they have toppled France in four of the last five Six Nations home fixtures, while also winning eight from 12 across all competitions since Les Bleus beat them in the 2011 World Cup semi-finals. Wales field 11 of the match-day 23 on Friday that were involved in an agonising Grand Slam-ending loss to Les Bleus last season, providing added motivation.

Shaun Edwards’ case for the defence

Shaun Edwards
France defence coach Shaun Edwards enjoyed a successful spell with Wales (Adam Davy/PA)

Wales’ former defence coach is a serial winner, whether as a rugby league playing great or in accomplished track-suited roles with Wasps, Wales and France. Edwards was part of Warren Gatland’s Wales coaching team between 2008 and 2019, a period that delivered four Six Nations titles, three Grand Slams and a World Cup semi-final appearance. He left to join the France set-up more than two years ago, and he has transformed Les Bleus’ defensive structure and attitude. The Wales players know exactly what they are up against.

Tough on Taine

Taine Basham
Taine Basham has missed out on Wales selection against France (David Davies/PA)

Flanker Taine Basham has been one of Wales’ most consistent performers this season, making his mark against high-calibre opponents during an impressive first year of Test rugby. With the experienced Josh Navidi now fit, though, Wales head coach Wayne Pivac will field a reshaped back-row of Navidi, Seb Davies and Taulupe Faletau, with Ross Moriarty providing bench cover. Basham misses out completely after starting the England game 12 days ago. Pivac said: “He is a young player who has played a lot of big games in a row. He started to, I think, just make a few errors in the last game.”

Antoine Dupont top of the Friday night bill

There will be plenty of headline acts performing on the Principality Stadium pitch, but no-one arguably more watchable than France captain and current world player of the year Dupont. The gifted scrum-half drives his team through a dazzling array of skills and tactical appreciation, and Friday night under the lights in Cardiff is exactly the type of stage he will relish. “He is probably the form player in the world,” acknowledged Wales boss Pivac. “Even when you are sitting in the opposition coaches’ box, some of the things he does on the field you find yourself just saying ‘well done’.”

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