By Paul Jones
After demolishing England with a performance that made him cry with joy, France coach Fabien Galthié wants his entertainers to finish the Six Nations in style with a home win against Wales on Saturday.
Defending champions France even have an outside chance of keeping their title.
But they must beat Wales at Stade de France and hope No. 1-ranked Ireland then slip up at home to an England side reeling from last weekend’s 53-10 hammering by Les Tricolores.
It was England’s third heaviest defeat ever, a humiliation made even worse by France’s highest score and largest margin of victory in 110 meetings with their old rival.
Four of France’s seven tries were by forwards who ran like centres, such was the attacking threat throughout the side.
Scrum-half Antoine Dupont was so good the Twickenham crowd briefly forgot the torture being inflicted, standing as one to give him a standing ovation when he came off.
“The Twickenham match gave us a lot of satisfaction, we can’t hide that,” said Galthié, who couldn’t hide his emotions or stop his gleeful tears.
“But we also saw some room for improvement. We could have played better with the ball and without the ball, done better in our transitional play.”
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That strive for perfection typifies Galthié, whose side won every match last year — including against every other side in the top 10 — on their way to a national-record 14-game winning streak.
It ended when the indomitable Irish won 32-19 to stamp their authority on this tournament.
But Galthié does not want to lose any momentum from the England game in what is No. 2-ranked France’s last official Test before cranking up their bid to win the World Cup for the first time.
The three-time runner-up have a mouth-watering opener against three-time champion New Zealand at Stade de France on September 8.
Galthié’s an astute tactician but he’s also pragmatic, and expects 2021 Six Nations champions Wales to provide a sterner test than some may think.
“Two years ago, this Wales side was two minutes away from winning the Grand Slam in our stadium,” Galthié said, referring to France’s 32-30 win back then.
“Two seasons isn’t a long time ago and there are players in that side who won three Grand Slams and five (Six Nations) tournaments.”
Wales are not the side they once were, though, and sit in fifth place, but Galthié knows that one thing never changes.
“Whatever happens, the Welsh always put their bodies on the line. They give everything, everything, everything,” he said.
“For a long time, they tormented the France team.”
Wales won 29-17 in Rome last Saturday to confirm the Italians in the wooden spoon position.
“Last weekend was really important for us getting a win in the Six Nations and building a bit of confidence,” Gatland said.
“It was a step in the right direction but there’s still lots for us to work on.”
Wales Struggle to Score Tries while France and Ireland Excel
Wales have scored the least tries (seven) and conceded the second most with England (14). France and Ireland share the lead with 16 tries each.
“France last weekend put in probably one of the best performances seen in a long, long time,” Gatland said.
“We’ve got to go out there and start well, make sure we’re in that arm wrestle with them and give ourselves that opportunity.”
France’s wrestling strength was boosted by prop Uini Atonio, who was immediately recalled at the end of a three-week ban for a dangerous tackle against Ireland.
The forward Galthié calls the “best scrummer in the world” plays his 50th test.
Wales made six changes including returns for former captains Dan Biggar and Alun Wyn Jones, and centre George North. No. 8 Taulupe Faletau plays his 100th game for his country.
Gatland said part of his selection thinking was to reward great servants of Wales.
But he suggested “up to eight players” may be making their last Six Nations appearance because he has to start building for the World Cup this year and in 2027.
“The message to them who might be playing their last Six Nations game is enjoy the occasion and the moment. For a lot of them, it might be the last time they do that.”
France: Thomas Ramos, Damian Penaud, Gael Fickou, Jonathan Danty, Ethan Dumortier, Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont (captain); Gregory Alldritt, Charles Ollivon, Francois Cros, Romain Taofifenua, Thibaud Flament, Uini Atonio, Julien Marchand, Cyril Baille. Reserves: Peato Mauvaka, Réda Wardi, Sipili Falatea, Bastien Chalureau, Sekou Macalou, Maxime Lucu, Yoram Moefana, Melvyn Jaminet.
Wales: Louis Rees-Zammit, Josh Adams, George North, Nick Tompkins, Rio Dyer, Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb; Taulupe Faletau, Justin Tipuric, Aaron Wainwright, Alun Wyn Jones, Adam Beard, Tomas Francis, Ken Owens (captain), Wyn Jones. Reserves: Bradley Roberts, Gareth Thomas, Dillon Lewis, Dafydd Jenkins, Tommy Reffell, Tomos Williams, Owen Williams, Leigh Halfpenny.