France is looking to make it three wins out of three when they take on Wales in Cardiff in the Six Nations on Friday night and keep their hopes of a tournament Grand Slam alive.
Despite only showing their best form in patches so far in this year’s tournaments, the French have recorded victories against England and Italy in Paris and have gone a long way towards banishing the memories of the memories of 2013’s Six Nations, when they finished a dismal last.
“The squad has done enormously well to pick up two wins. We have to make the most of it,” said France’s No. 8 Louis Picamoles, the tournament’s leading forward in metres made.
The French know though that they are likely to face a tough battle at the Millennium Stadium against two-time defending champions Wales, who are looking to make up for their stunning 26-3 defeat by Ireland in Dublin a fortnight ago.
"On Friday it is going to be a very complicated task, in a magnificent stadium, but I am gagging for it to get underway as I have been thinking about it for a week now," says 22-year-old France fly-half Jules Plisson, who has made a positive impression in his first two appearances for his country in this year’s tournament.
"I am ready for a huge battle. It will be Jamie Roberts and George North in the centre, who are not the slightest of builds, but I will grit my teeth.”
Wales meanwhile will be hoping that history will repeat itself. Last year, North's winning try against France saw Wales recover from defeat by Ireland with a victory that paved the way for what had appeared an unlikely second successive title.
Twelve months on and the defending champions must do the same again to retain any hope of becoming the first team to win the Championship outright three years in succession.
'A chance for the players to redeem themselves'
Coach Warren Gatland has warned his players that another sub-standard Six Nations display could spell the end of their Test careers.
"Our performance against Ireland was unacceptable and we have spoken all week about how we are going to respond," Gatland said Wednesday.
"This game can't come quickly enough for the players and we are hoping for a big turn-around.
"This is a chance for the players to redeem themselves for the performance and with the 2015 World Cup in mind, if some players do not perform then it may be the last time they play for Wales."
Though France are in the better form, the New Zealander is hoping that Wales’ victory against Les Bleus in the previous two Six Nations will give them a psychological advantage.
"France will be coming here with a spring in their step and the confidence that two victories naturally brings. The Six Nations tournament is all about momentum and they have that right now," Gatland said.
"The challenge for us is to change that against a team who will also be hurting from the fact that we have beaten them for the last two years."
Despite displays of individual brilliance in both matches, France dropped their guard in the second half against both England and Italy and coach Philippe Saint-Andre coach knows his team cannot afford to do the same against Wales.
"The beginning of the second half against England was terrible and we did nothing in the last 20 minutes against Italy after playing well for an hour and scoring three good tries," said Saint-Andre.
"We cannot do the same in Cardiff."
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)
Date created : 2014-02-21