After what must feel like the longest week in eternity for European Rugby fans, the drama finally begins in the 6 Nations and we might well have a thriller to open the tournament.
On the basis of pure results, many people will would be surprised that you could get close to evens on Wales. Warren Gatland’s men have won their last nine, and France won just three games last year.
However, head coach Jacques Brunel has now had the precious commodity of time with the team and the French, whilst not managing to win too many games, have not made themselves the easiest side to beat.
Games between the two – as one can see from the scores below – have been attritional, tight contests where the packs have come to the fore, and Brunel has taken a heavy hitting approach to tonight’s encounter. Jefferson Poirot (19st 5lbs), Guilhem Guirado (17st 2lbs), Uni Antonio (24st 8lbs), Sebstian Vahaamahina (19st 12lbs), Paul Willemse (21st 4lbs), Wencelas Lauret (16st 3lbs), Louis Picamoles (18st 4lbs), and Arthur Iturria (16st 12lbs) make for a terrifying front five.
The thinking behind picking them may well be to put pressure on a Welsh side that is carrying it’s fair share of injuries, but the visitors are extremely resilient and well stocked to deal with such a challenge.
Gatland has seen Ross Mortiarty and Josh Adams recover in time to start – despite injury scare whilst even Gareth Davies has managed to make the bench despite a thigh problem. Liam Williams has also beaten a scare to start at fullback and when all is said and done, seven of the side that will run onto the pitch tonight started for Wales’ dominant win against Scotland a year ago.
The Welsh have won their last nine, including a crucial unbeaten autumn when they managed to get over their Australian hoodoo whilst also beating a South Africa side that was much improving by the end of the year, and that confidence really ought to play a crucial part.
Tomos Williams is starting at scrumhalf for the first time in the 6 Nations but it will be his third start and seventh cap whilst he has the considerable benefit of starting alongside his Blues team-mate Gareth Anscombe, who started three of the four November internationals.
In fact, there are only three changes from the side that beat South Africa to end the Autumn Internationals and if they can get their hands on the ball, then Williams and Anscombe have the capability to run the pack off their feet, a tactic that some sides have used to great effect in the Champions Cup this season against French opposition.
However, the sheer size and weight of the French is likely to keep this game tight until the very last minute, and perhaps the tie isn’t as crazy an option as some might think. There was one point separating the pair last year and and the year before just two points was the difference after an incredible 80 minutes.
In a game of fine margins, and with some dodgy weather expected, it would be no surprise if forwards came to the fore. Chance Guilhem Guirado to score the first try at 18/1. He scored four in the Autumn and there have been no more than two tries in any of the last six fixtures between the two so it’s entirely likely that he can nab the first one, especially if the French set in for an early drive – although you can also back him at 4/1 to get on the scoresheet at anytime which seems reasonable.
France v Wales
Kick-off: 8pm, Stade De France, Paris
BBC 1HD / S4C HD
HEAD TO HEAD RECORD
(Maximum 10 matches)
2018 Wales 14 France 13
2017 France 20 Wales 18
2016 Wales 19 France 10
2015 France 13 Wales 20
2014 Wales 27 France 6
2013 France 6 Wales 16
Wins in Paris France 5 Wales 4
Teams (From 15-9, and then 1-8 after the semi-colon)
Wales: Liam Williams; George North, Jonathan Davies, Hadleigh Parkes, Josh Adams; Gareth Anscombe, Tomos Williams; Rob Evans, Ken Owens, Tomas Francis, Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones (capt), Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric, Ross Moriarty.
Replacements: Elliot Dee, Wyn Jones, Samson Lee, Cory Hill, Aaron Wainwright, Gareth Davies, Dan Biggar, Owen Watkin.
France: Maxime Medard; Damian Penaud, Wesley Fofana, Romain Ntamack, Yohann Huget; Camille Lopez, Morgan Parra; Jefferson Poirot, Guilhem Guirado, Uini Atonio; Sébastien Vahaamahina, Paul Willemse, Wenceslas Lauret, Arthur Itturia, Louis Picamoles.
Replacements: Julien Marchand, Dany Priso, Demba Bamba, Felix Lambey, Gregory Alldritt, Baptiste Serin, Gael Fickou, Geoffrey Doumayrou.
RECOMMENDED BETS (scale of 1-100 points)
BACK Guilhem Guirado First Tryscorer at 18/1 with starsports.bet
BACK Guilhem Guirado Anytime Tryscorer at 4/1 with starsports.bet
BACK Tie 1 pt at 14/1 with starsports.bet
PROFIT/LOSS SINCE JAN 1 2017: PROFIT 200.64 points
(excluding Premier League ante-post and Six Nations ante-post)