Ghosts of 2011: Wales have World Cup score to settle against France

Oita (Japan) (AFP) –


Wales will try to banish the ghosts of 2011 and France will attempt to right a more recent reverse when the two sides meet in a World Cup quarter-final in Oita on Sunday.

Warren Gatland's successful 12-year spell as Wales coach will conclude when the New Zealander steps down after Japan 2019, meaning defeat this weekend would signal the end of the former Ireland boss's time in charge.

Gatland has guided reigning Six Nations champions Wales to three Grand Slams.

But the World Cup was the source of his biggest disappointment with Wales when they were beaten 9-8 by France in a 2011 semi-final in Auckland, after then Welsh captain Sam Warburton received an early red card for a dangerous tip tackle on Vincent Clerc.

Wales have since won seven of their eight matches against France, the lone exception being a 2017 match in Paris when French shaded a controversial clash with a converted try 20 minutes after the end of normal time.

But of all their recent defeats by Wales, few would have stung France quite as much as the one they suffered on home soil in February when they led 16-0 at half-time only to lose 24-19.

Wales had been in danger of a damaging loss in the opening weekend of the Six Nations but instead they went on to complete a Grand Slam.

Four years ago, Wales went all the way to the last eight only to lose to a 75th-minute try scored by the Springboks' Fourie du Preez.

"2015 was one of those frustrating times when we lost that quarter-final with South Africa," said Wales flanker Justin Tipuric.

"The boys have learnt from that, and we don't want to feel disappointment like that again. Fingers crossed, it won't happen again."

Wales go into Sunday's match with a fully fit squad after key backs Dan Biggar and Jonathan Davies were given the all-clear following head and knee knocks respectively.

France coach Jacques Brunel, like Gatland standing down after the World Cup, has also been boosted by the return of wing Damian Penaud and highly-rated scrum-half Antoine Dupont from injury.

The French, three-times losing finalists, but like Wales yet to win the World Cup, saw their concluding pool match against England cancelled because of Typhoon Hagibis hitting Tokyo.

This weekend's side shows one change to the team that edged out Argentina 23-21 in a tense tournament opener, with lock Bernard Le Roux replacing Arthur Iturria.

- Gatland's 'worst memory' -

Meanwhile Gatland has opted for the same line-up that beat Australia 29-25 in Wales's toughest match to date at Japan 2019.

"They're not going to change their strategy," said Brunel of Wales.

"They're going to rely on a very strong defensive screen, quality individuals, their ability to put the opposition under pressure."

Trying to forecast France's form is a notoriously difficult business -- they reached the 2011 final, which they only lost narrowly to New Zealand, with the side in a state of mutiny against then coach Marc Lievremont.

"I can't say where we'll end up," said Brunel.

"But inside, I really feel something very positive from these four months of adventure during which different generations of players have come together."

Fullback Maxime Medard is the only French player from the semi-final win eight years ago who is still in the side.

For Gatland, who attributes much of Wales' recent success against France to the way they've forced Les Bleus into mistakes, the pain of that last-four loss remains.

"The worst memory is the World Cup semi-final in 2011," he said on Friday when asked about the Wales games he has coached against France.

"The best memory? I'm just trying to think... this Sunday?"