Josh Navidi – Wales’ first and only son of an Iranian wrestler – is confident he can pin a giant French pack to the canvass tonight and win by submission.
The Cardiff Blues flanker returns from injury for a key mission in Wales’ back row as the Six Nations starts in Paris with heavy expectation on both sides.
Navidi is always unmissable on any field, with his dark dreadlocks flying, but he is certain to catch the eye this evening – a small figure by Test blindside flanker standards trying to combat the biggest pack of forwards the French have ever assembled.
Les Bleus will field an eight with a combined weight of just over 150 stones, spearheaded by prop Uini Atonio (22st 7lbs) and lock Paul Willemse (21st 3lbs). Wales know they cannot budge an inch during what could be a right old rumble at Stade de France.
But Navidi says: “The bigger they are, the harder they fall. It’s old school kids rugby.
“It is the same when we play regional rugby – we know they are going to be big and physical and the back-line will have a lot of flair.
You just know what is coming – a lot of drives and stuff. We know how big they are and we have to try and match them physically. I played (for Cardiff Blues) against Montpellier, probably four years ago. They had one of the biggest packs I have played against.
“You have to try and match them, getting off the line and getting in their faces. You cannot let them come to you and give them a rolling start. We know we need to move their pack around the field, and I hope we can do that by moving the ball and tiring them out.”
Navidi, 28, was a stand-out Wales player last season, delivering one high-class display after another.
But he has not featured in the Test arena since Wales beat France last March, missing his country’s autumn series clean sweep this term because of injury.
“It is nice to get a start. It was a bit frustrating with my injuries in the last couple of months. It is nice to be back involved in the squad and be able to start at 6 on the weekend.
“I don’t have a preference where I play. After line-out and scrum it is a normal game. You have to do your job and play your game without worrying about changing too much.
“If you move from centre to wing there is a lot of difference, but if you are playing 6,7,8 you see a lot more of the ball at 8, 6 more is of a line-out option and 7 you are always first to the breakdown in defence or attack.
Navidi teams up with Justin Tipuric and Ross Moriarty in the Wales back-row, having a pivotal role to play as Warren Gatland’s men chase a 10th successive victory against all opponents.
Having formed a formidable partnership with his former Blues teammate Sam Warburton, and then the currently injured Ellis Jenkins, Navidi now has to create an understanding with Tipuric.
“It is the same as when I have played with Ellis and Sam. The more jackallers you have on the park the more turnovers you hope to get, putting pressure at every ruck. It puts pressure on them to commit numbers to rucks and it is about keeping that constant pressure and getting more turnovers to play off.
“In the autumn, there were a lot of Blues players there for Wales and it was nice to see them stepping in. There were a fair few injuries in there and it is good to see the strength in depth in Wales. For me, personally, it was getting my knee right over that period, getting back playing for the Blues and making sure I was playing my best rugby.”
Dragons number eight Moriarty has not played since mid-December after being sidelined with concussion, but he will bring abrasiveness and considerable physicality to a contest that will be no place for the faint-hearted.
“He is a physical character,” Navidi added. “His ball-carrying and defence work show how physical he is. I like that part of his game.
“He is nitty-gritty, and what he does he does well. To not play for six weeks and come into a game like this one is quite impressive.
“He is a world-class player, and I am sure when Friday comes he is ready to go. The six weeks out will not make a difference to him.”
And Navidi has also backed Blues colleague – scrum-half Tomos Williams – to thrive when he features for the first time in a Six Nations game.
Williams, who made his Test debut last summer, has been preferred to the more experienced Scarlets number nine Gareth Davies as the only back division change following Wales’ victory over South Africa 10 weeks ago.
“Tomos is a livewire, a threat off the base (of the scrum) as well,” Navidi said.
“He has got flair and is quite aggressive for a scrum-half. It is good when your nine is a bit fiery. He can tie in extra defenders.”
Wales have beaten France on six of the countries’ last seven meetings, including two victories in Paris, which augers well for a campaign that many observers feel will be a three-way title battle between Wales, Ireland and England.