Wales out to educate Six Nations' problem children
March 17, 2011
George North returns for Wales © Getty Images
Wales travel to the Stade de France this weekend with a possible Championship win still a remote possibility, but the home side will not be in the mood to do them any favours after last week's humbling at the hands of Italy.
The chaos generated by France's first Championship reversal against the Azzurri continued this week with Marc Lievremont's accusations of cowardice mixed in with another new-look team selection, meaning that Wales are facing an even more unpredictable challenge than normal.
They will also want to escape the glare of the press after the controversy generated by their winning try against Ireland last weekend, but with Jonathan Kaplan on touch-judge duty in Paris they are going to have to grin and bear it for a little longer.
With England on for a Grand Slam in Dublin in the day's middle game, Wales will know what they have to do come kick-off. They will want to ensure another difficult week for France either way.
France - Player to Watch: Thomas Domingo is back in action at loose-head and will be tasked with putting Adam Jones, who has 20 minutes' rugby since January, under major pressure at the scrum.
France - Team News: David Marty and Damien Traille replace Yannick Jauzion and Aurelien Rougerie in midfield and Brive's Alexis Palisson recalled in place of Yoann Huget on the wing. In the pack, Domingo has reclaimed the loose-head berth from Sylvain Marconnet and Imanol Harinordoquy is restored at the base of the scrum ahead of Sebastien Chabal.
Wales - Player to Watch: George North has been tasked with filling the shoes of the injured Shane Williams and while it is a crying shame that the little master has been denied a Championship send-off, his replacement could be something special. Still just 18, he has waited a while for another shot at this level and he will want to cause some mayhem.
Wales - Team News: North's recall is one of two, with Adam Jones back at tight-head due to the shoulder injury suffered by Craig Mitchell last time out. The Ospreys prop is short on match practice but boasts plenty of quality.
Key Battle: Wales' defence has been the signature of their campaign to date, so France will need to find their flamboyant best. Morgan Parra and Francois Trinh-Duc must upstage James Hook and Mike Phillips and get their heavyweight backline moving.
Trivia: The last time Wales finished their Six Nations tilt with a fixture against France was in 2008, when they sealed a Grand Slam at the Millennium Stadium.
Stats: Wales won their first two games at the new Stade de France, in 1999 and 2001, but have lost their last couple of fixtures, leaving them with a record of three wins and three losses.
"I regret some of the things I said on Sunday, when I said that some players had probably played their last match for France. It was clumsy of me, although I still maintain that changes have to be made." - France coach Marc Lievremont attempts to play down his post-match comments
"It goes without saying that we will miss Shane [Williams], any side would, but George presents an entirely different prospect." - Wales assistant coach Neil Jenkins backs North to make an impact.
The Odds: Recent contests between the sides have been close calls - if you fancy the hosts to pinch it by one to five points, bet365 are offering odds of 5-1.
Fantasy: Wales' wingers are packing plenty of firepower, are North and Leigh Halfpenny in your ESPNscrum Fantasy Rugby Game team?
Prediction: France are the most unpredictable of beasts but they are at their most dangerous when little is expected of them. Comfortable home win.
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