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Preview: France v Wales

Fri, 08 Feb 2013 07:24
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To be ambitious is to show it on the pitch
Quote-end

France will be looking to get back on a winning track on Saturday and inflict a ninth successive defeat on Wales in their Six Nations clash.

Both teams suffered opening match defeats, the French losing 23-18 to Italy and the Welsh recovering some pride after a woeful first-half performance losing 30-22 to Ireland in Cardiff.

However, France had been on a four-match winning streak prior to that and back at home, and with another week training together, coach Philippe Saint-Andre is looking for a much improved performance.

"At the highest level it is not the dynamic of victories which show what you're made of but in how you deal with defeat," said the 45-year-old, who guided France to fourth place in his first Six Nations in charge last year.

"We shall see how capable we are of reacting individually and collectively to find solutions," he insisted, demanding a reaction and "great solidarity" in swiftly turning their campaign around.

"To be ambitious is to show it on the pitch. We have to rediscover collective precision and a physical and mental ferocity to win duels as well as the efficiency which was cruelly lacking for us against Italy."

Saint-Andre, who succeeded in one of his aims last year in getting France a top four seeding for the 2015 World Cup, resisted the urge to make sweeping changes, restricting himself to just two.

Lock Jocelino Suta wins his fourth cap as he comes in for the injured Pascal Pape - who is replaced as captain by former skipper Thierry Dusautoir - while giant centre Mathieu Bastareaud is preferred to Florian Fritz.

Saint-Andre, a former France captain and capped 69 times, said that Fritz was not being singled out for blame for the Italy debacle.

It was simply a strategic choice.

"It is not a punishment. We win as 23 and we lose as 23," said Saint-Andre.

"It is more a strategic choice with regard to the Welsh defence and also it means all three of our midfield (flyhalf Frederic Michalak and centres, Bastareaud and Maxime Mermoz) play together at club level (Toulon)."

The French players, though, know that a repeat of their 16 turnovers will not only be punished by the Welsh but also by their coach when he selects his side for the third game against England later this month.

However, scrumhalf Maxime Machenaud, who was heavily criticised for his performance against Italy, believes they can turn things round.

"We have to remain positive because the things that we have to improve on are simple ones. It's not as if everything didn't work last Sunday," he said.

Wales have little to be positive about having completely lost their way since storming to the Grand Slam last year.

Losing coach Warren Gatland to his duties as British and Irish Lions handler has hurt them badly and left interim coach Rob Howley searching desperately for a win that will ease the pressure.

The loss of inspirational captain Sam Warburton to injury - Ryan Jones takes over for a record 30th Test as skipper - makes the odds even longer of Wales recording just their fourth win in Paris since 1975.

Howley, though, believes that if Wales can carry the momentum from their second-half display against the Irish they could end their dreadful run.

"We know that we will have to start well and start the way we finished the game against Ireland," the former Wales and British and Irish Lions scrumhalf said.

"Playing France in Paris is always a huge match but we have worked hard as a squad this week and want to deliver a performance we know we are capable of."

Players to watch:

For France: Tighthead prop Nicolas Mas is one of the toughest customers in the game and will have to set a platform for big No.8 Louis Picamoles to take advantage whilst skipper Thierry Dusautoir will be the main threat on the ground. The mercurial Frederic Michalak will want to bounce back from his disappointing performance last week and outside him the physical Mathieu Bastareaud will want to justify the coach's faith in him.

For Wales: Experienced props Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones will be tasked with taking on the French tight five, and in the loose trio the talented Justin Tipuric will want to show why many prefer him to the injured Sam Warburton. In the backline the power of Jamie Roberts and George North will be a factor along with the skill of Alex Cuthbert and Leigh Halfpenny.

Head to head: The duel between Mas and Jenkins up front will be immense, whilst Tipuric will have plenty to prove in his scrap for the loose ball with Dusautoir. Bastareaud will have a tough task in getting the better of the experienced Jonathan Davies, and outside them the match-up between electric wings North and Wesley Fofana should be enthralling.

Prediction: Both teams have plenty to prove, so there should be no lack of passion on display. Wales will be desperate to stop their losing streak, but will have to produce something truly special to unseat France at home. We are backing France to win by about seven points.

Recent results:
2012: Wales won 16-9 in Cardiff
2011: France won 9-8 in Auckland
2011: France won 28-9 in Paris
2010: France won 26-20 in Cardiff
2009: France won 21-16 in Paris

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 Thierry Dusautoir (captain), 6 Fulgence Ouedraogo, 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 Damian 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 (captain), 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, Paris
Kick-off: 17.00 GMT
Expected weather: Partly cloudy, 20% chance of rain, high of 5, low of 4
Referee: George Clancy

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