By Tomas Marks
In Warren Gatland’s first tenure with Wales, he was innovative and progressive.
He utilised the rule of 60 caps, employed Shaun Edwards as defence coach, located training camps in Poland and Switzerland, oversaw 45-minute training sessions, built a cryotherapy programme, captured Paul Stridgeon as head of physical performance, and made Sam Warburton a young captain – all in a quest to be world class.
Gatland achieved number one status in the world rankings in his first term with Wales, but to avoid the second term curse that afflicts many American presidents, he needs to delve into his creativity.
Google is one of the most innovative companies in the world and encourages employees to be more creative with policies such as their 20% rule.
Through this rule, the employees are required to spend 20% of their time on side projects.
France have been using their innovation and time wisely with former referee Jerome Garces on their coaching staff, which has improved their discipline, relationships with referees and was a secret weapon in their Grand Slam in 2022.
One English pundit has already claimed that Wales could lose by 70 points. It is certainly some task awaiting Gatland and his team at the Stade de France, and so Gatland has reverted to experience with a remarkable 997 caps in his side https://t.co/OLtJPnmLRb
— Times Sport (@TimesSport) March 17, 2023
Garces officiated the last World Cup final in 2019 and it was a shrewd appointment by French head coach Fabien Galthie to improve their notoriously poor discipline.
France have been more disciplined than Wales in this campaign with eight fewer penalties in a total of 47 and every little detail counts in the Test arena.
I’m sure Galthie and Garces have already met Nic Berry and his officiating team ahead of Saturday’s clash and shared some clips on Wales. They will have gained some clarity around the contact area, collisions and set piece.
In a game of small margins, Galthie and Garces will have done everything in their power to collaborate with Berry and his team.
On the pitch, they have the genius Antoine Dupont, the “Million Euro a season” player, and he’s worth every penny. He’s the Lionel Messi of rugby.
Dupont is a great example of innovation as he can now kick with aplomb from both feet which manipulates the backfield and baffles guard defenders as they are unsure whether he is going to use his left or right foot.
His game awareness and rugby IQ is fantastic and if his trajectory continues in this vein he will become the best player to have ever played in the Six Nations.
France do like kicking from hand and they average 32.5 kicks per match, but the quality and variation of their kicking is the point of difference.
In the England match they scored three tries from kicks with a Dupont left foot 50:22, cross field kick by Gael Fickou and a Dupont attacking box kick.
France kick the ball a lot as they have world class kickers and play to their super strengths.
The French have an incredible depth of quality kickers – at full back they have an option of playing Thomas Ramos, Melvyn Jaminet or Anthony Bouthier and all the half-backs can goal kick.
In this match against Wales, they have the power of choosing five goal kickers, which is extraordinary depth.
The French can play a game of movement or power and this versatility means they can challenge any team on the globe.
The addition of giants Unini Antonio and Romain Taofifenua bolsters the pack with an extra 286 kg of boeuf.
Astonishingly, apart from Cyril Baille and Julien Marchand every other player in the starting pack is between 6ft 3 and 6 ft 8, giving them an advantage in aerial battles at the line-out, restart and kick contests.
That pack will keep the Welsh forwards occupied but they can be equally terrifying in the game of movement.
The French have made 16 clean line breaks in this championship, double the amount of Wales, and more importantly they have converted 57% of those opportunities.
If Wales are going to challenge the French they will need to be ruthless and convert the breaks into points.
The French were at their best last week as they played with power and speed.
Wales haven’t beaten France since the World Cup quarter-final in 2019, but they definitely have a chance.
Wales possess unparalleled experience with four centurions in the starting team and three players with over 90 caps.
This home match is perfect preparation for the French ahead of their home World Cup in September, but will they be able to handle the heat?
Wales have experience, plus seven players who didn’t play last weekend, so they will be fresh and ready to throw everything at Les Bleus.
This showdown is talent versus experience and it will be enthralling to see which team prevails in Paris.
The eight Wales players whose Six Nations careers Warren Gatland thinks could be over in 24 hours https://t.co/J1lYid26YU
— WalesOnline Rugby (@WalesRugby) March 17, 2023