Laporte wary of Welsh
World Cup finalists and Six Nations Championship favourites France tackle Wales in Cardiff tomorrow, with coach Bernard Laporte claiming: "It's a 50-50 match."
Despite their current status as Europe's form team, France will tread carefully when they trot out at the Millennium Stadium, scene of their 35-12 World Cup final defeat against Australia three months ago.
Wales, felled in the quarter-finals by John Eales' all-conquering Wallabies, boast a 75% success rate from 16 Tests since New Zealander Graham Henry took over as coach.
What's more, they are seeking a hat-trick of wins over France having triumphed memorably in Paris last year, then comfortably winning a World Cup warm-up Test when goal-kicking machine Neil Jenkins amassed 29 points.
Little wonder, then, that Laporte is somewhat twitchy about his first match in charge as Championship rugby returns to Cardiff following a break of almost three years.
"It is reasonable for people to put us as favourites because of the World Cup, but I would refer them to our last two matches against Wales," said former Stade Francais supremo Laporte.
"We lost twice to the Welsh last season and I don't think the World Cup performances will have any bearing on tomorrow's game. Welsh rugby has reached a higher level in the last two years and I think
that this will be a 50-50 match."
Laporte has wasted little time showing who's boss, making key decisions like dropping World Cup captain Raphael Ibanez, switching genial fly-half Thomas Castaignede to full-back and selecting a pack of steamroller proportions.
World Cup locks Abdel Benazzi and Fabien Pelous now find themselves in the back-row, giant Samoan international Legi Matiu, who qualifies for France on residency grounds, wins a second-row place and granite-hard prop Christian Califano is back from suspension.