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Laporte warns against complacency
Cardiff
February 4, 2000

New French coach Bernard Laporte said on Friday that while delighted his side start out as favourites for the Six Nations his players should not take any notice of it as their first opponents Wales have beaten them in their last two meetings.

Laporte, who replaced Jean-Claude Skrela when he stepped down after the World Cup final defeat to Australia in November, hinted also that he would try and dictate play through the scrum, although he denied that he had preferred brawn over speed in the pack.

"The Welsh have made enormous progress over the past couple of years under coach Graham Henry," the 35-year-old former scrum-half said.

"They are a hard team to get through and have very few weaknesses with their midfield as outstanding in defence as they are in attack ... and that's without taking into account the kicking of Neil Jenkins," he added referring to the 29-year-old world points recordholder known as the 'The Ginger Monster'.

However, Laporte, who despite not being capped got the job on the basis of his success coaching Stade Francais from the third division to champions in three years, warned the Welsh not to think they could unnerve the French defence by kicking up and unders the whole time.

"That won't work because we have one of the finest fullbacks in the world in Thomas Castaignede (the former fly-half who missed most of the World Cup through injury)," he said.

Laporte, who has shown he is no respecter of reputations by stripping Raphael Ibanez of the captaincy and then dropping him as hooker, denied that he had specifically selected a massive scrum for the encounter.

"It just happened like that. I just chose the best players around at the moment in those particular positions," he said.

However, Henry was having none of that and was convinced that the French were going to batter their way down the pitch through the scrum.

"They have an enormous pack and I think that is the style they are going to adopt, concentrate on the scrum and take us out in midfield," the New Zealander said.

"Of course if that fails they have superb backs whose ball handling skills are unrivalled," he added.

Henry, who coached Wales to a record equalling 10 victories last year, believed the team who won the match would be the one that made the least handling errors, which wasn't going to be easy.

"Because we are starting the match so late in the afternoon (1600 GMT) the conditions will be damp and the ball will be slippery," he said.

"It is absolutely imperative that the players keep hold of the ball and retain possession.

"Also the manner in which the referee handles the new rules particularly round the scrum will have a huge bearing on the match .. if he sticks rigidly to the law dictating that the props must stay absolutely straight in the scrum then the game will become a more attractive spectacle," he added.

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