France's players training at the Principality Stadium. Pic: Getty Images.

How To Sour This Michelin Star French Team . . . Reduce The Shaun Edwards Sauce, Then Sprinkle Heavily With Cuthbert, Adams And Williams X2

Only Wales and England now stand between Les Bleus and glory, with Fabien Galthie’s hugely impressive France side firmly on course for a first Six Nations title since 2010. After brushing aside Italy and battling past key rivals Ireland, ruthless France claimed an emphatic 36-17 bonus-point victory over Scotland at Murrayfield. Tomas Marks is a big admirer. However, he insists they do have some faults.

“The end game is to become a major nation in world rugby, to win matches and win titles so we can be in the top three in the world,” said Fabien Galthie at the start of his reign as France’s head coach in November 2019.

So far, so good. France are currently number three in the World Rugby standings and on course to live up to that billing when they host the World Cup next year.

The French have transformed themselves over the past two years with a famous win in Australia with a development team, before they beat the All Blacks by 15 points in Paris.

They were runners up in the Autumn Nations Cup and finished second in the last two Six Nations Championships.

The only thing that’s missing is a trophy – something that could well change within the next few days.

The French Federation and the clubs are now pulling in the same direction and the French team have the luxury of having 43 players in camp for the Six Nations.

Unlike previous years, when there was a perpetual fight for players, they can prepare fully to compete for the whole tournament.

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It was evident in the match against Scotland that the best Scottish players were jaded, having had to go back and play for their respective clubs, like Exeter Chiefs, Racing 92 and Worcester Warriors.

That defeat showed the Scottish Rugby Union they need to review their player clauses, if they ever want to be a top real force in the global game.

The French were in imperious against the Scots, with strong performances from their box office players – namely, Cyril Baille, Julien Marchand, Gregory Alldritt, Antoine Dupont, Romain Ntamack, Jonathan Danty, Gael Fickou and Damian Penaud.

Luckily for Wales, Penaud isn’t available for this clash as he always seems to create some magic and chaos to opposition defences.

The key ingredients and recipe for success for this Michelin star French team are as follows.

Take a low penalty count, add a layer of post-tackle efforts, a sprinkle of continuity, simmer on a setting of innovative set piece attacks and an accurate kicking game, and then roast the opposition with sublime counter attack.

They also possess prime beef – in the form of a 931kg pack and Welsh loosehead prop Gareth Thomas will have an enormous task to out-scrummage and unbalance Uini Antonio.

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Antonio is a mammoth prop, a slab of steak tartare weighing in at 24 stone and standing at 6ft 5in tall. For a normal human being it must be like trying to scrummage a JCB!

These combined elements allow the French to be able to play a game of power and a game of movement.

Having analysed the French game there aren’t many weaknesses but the astute Dan Biggar will have noticed the potential aerial faults from restarts and attacking kicks.

This is an area Biggar excels in and he will exploit on Friday night.

Also, the Welsh poachers – namely Josh Navidi, Jac Morgan and Dillon Lewis – will have noticed the impact of Scotland’s Rory Darge in the last match and will look to exploit those isolated French contact areas.

The French will look to start with a bang as Wales have been very slow starters in the opening three rounds of the Six Nations.

I hope the late Welsh squad announcement isn’t indicative of Wales being reactive rather than pro-active in its mindset this week.

 

From a Welsh perspective, it’s to be hoped the likes of Tomos Williams, Josh Adams, Alex Cuthbert and Liam Williams challenge the infamous Shaun Edwards’ defence.

Scotland did manage to create three clean line-breaks, but like Wales against England they didn’t finish those chances.

It’s brilliant to see Louis Rees-Zammitt involved in the 23 this week as he could be the point of difference in Cardiff in the last quarter of the match.

Even though Dupont gets all the plaudits, the heart of this French revolution is centre, Fickou.

The Racing player has always been a Rolls Royce of an attacking centre, but he’s got the all-court game now.

For example, against Scotland he scored himself on a two-versus-two, played nine twice in the lead up to the first try, decoyed and passed for the Danty try, held up Darge in the build up to the Penaud score, and was a menace in defence.

He then capped it off with a jackal turnover. He’s certainly up there with South African Lukhanyo Am as the best 13 in world rugby.

 

The Welsh equivalent is the ultimate warrior, Taulupe Faletau after his monumental effort in the last match with 20 tackles, 13 carries and one important jackal.

If Wales are going to compete in this match they need the star players to shine.

They must dominate set piece, convert their line breaks and be accurate in both attack and defence.

If they don’t halt this juggernaut team head-on, the French could really get into gear.

This promises to be a brilliant spectacle as there are players on both teams that can light up Cardiff on a Friday night Lights.

Bonne chance and Pob lwc to both teams.

 

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