Wales would be content with repeat of ugly Paris win
Updated 2:23pm Friday 21st February 2014 in Sport
HISTORY has been rewritten about the 2013 Six Nations.
Because of the stunning finale against England the narrative goes that Wales romped to the title, denied a Grand Slam by 42 lackadaisical minutes against Ireland in the opener.
Yet Rob Howley's men were in a right mess when they headed to the Stade de France in round two.
After eight Test defeats in a row the pre-Paris mantra was 'you don't become a bad side overnight' and that rings true a year on.
Wales once again take on France on the back of a loss to Ireland but this time, unlike 2013, there was no stirring second-half comeback.
The manner of the 26-3 defeat has prompted plenty of soul-searching, not to mention a few threats from head coach Warren Gatland.
The New Zealander needs a win this evening after losing his personal duel with Joe Schmidt in Dublin –and he won't care about style.
The match in Saint-Denis on February 9, 2013 was a ghastly, error-strewn affair on a shocking pitch in front of a subdued crowd who were shivering in freezing conditions.
But that all got washed away thanks to Dan Biggar's neat kick, George North's powerful finish and his dad David's pitch invasion.
Wales won 16-6 and while television bigwigs will want a wonderful Friday night spectacle, Gatland & Co would happily take another no-frills success.
They take on a France side buoyed by a pair of home wins and boosted by coach Philippe Saint-Andre misplacing his selection tombola.
He makes just one enforced change to the side that overpowered Italy in the second half a fortnight ago, bringing in Racing Metro flanker Wenceslas Lauret to go toe-to-toe with his clubmate Dan Lydiate.
It's usually the French that have question marks over their half-back pairing but for once Saint-Andre is content, pairing Jean Marc Doussain and Jules Plisson for the third successive Test.
Instead it is the Welsh partnership of Rhys Webb and Rhys Priestland that will be under close scrutiny after getting the nod ahead of Mike Phillips and Dan Biggar.
It was a harsh call on Phillips – the only victim, scapegoat perhaps, of a woeful team showing in Ireland – but don't be surprised if he is called from the bench to salvage the situation this evening.
Gatland, of course, will be hoping that the replacement scrum-half's job will be to close the game out.
And while Wales are under pressure, I expect them to win this evening.
France have made a good start to the campaign but let's not forget their win against England was a tad fortunate and they didn't exactly dazzle against Italy for three quarters of the game.
As usual they have headed to Wales with a heavyweight pack and they will aim to follow Ireland's lead by disrupting the lineout when Richard Hibbard is throwing and by driving powerfully when it's Dimitri Szarzewski's turn.
Perpignan's former Dragons captain Luke Charteris, recalled for the region's current skipper Andrew Coombs after recovering from a hamstring, will provide a welcome towering presence against familiar foes from the Top 14.
It's up front where Gatland is demanding a drastic improvement and if Gethin Jenkins, Adam Jones and Dan Lydiate don't repay his faith then expect some tinkering for Twickenham.
Two years ago Lydiate, then with Newport Gwent Dragons, produced a stunning defensive display in the Grand Slam clincher against Les Bleus that no doubt played a big part in earning a bumper deal with Racing Metro.
He hasn't been a roaring success in Paris (nor the complete disaster that some suggest) but this game should be tailormade for the 26-year-old – big units and big collisions.
If Wales can win those battles, as they have in most European tussles for two years, then they will get back on track this evening.
There have been murmurings of discontent since the Dublin debacle and Sam Warburton and his men have a point to prove.
The heavy defeat at the Aviva Stadium means a historic hat-trick of titles is highly unlikely but Wales can ill afford for their challenge to be over with two rounds to play.
Wales: L Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues), A Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues), G North (Northampton Saints), J Roberts (Racing Metro), L Williams (Scarlets), R Priestland (Scarlets), R Webb (Ospreys), G Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), R Hibbard (Ospreys), A Jones (Ospreys), L Charteris (Perpignan), A W Jones (Ospreys), D Lydiate (Racing Metro), S Warburton (captain, Cardiff Blues), T Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons).
Replacements: K Owens (Scarlets), P James (Bath Rugby), R Jones (Scarlets), J Ball (Scarlets), J Tipuric (Ospreys), M Phillips (Racing Metro), D Biggar (Ospreys), J Hook (Perpignan).
France: B Dulin (Castres); Y Huget (Toulouse), M Bastareaud (Toulon), W Fofana (Clermont Auvergne), H Bonneval (Stade Francais); J Plisson (Stade Francais), J-M Doussain (Toulouse); T Domingo (Clermont Auvergne), D Szarzewski (Racing Metro), N Mas (Montpellier), P Pape (Stade Francais, captain), Y Maestri (Toulouse), Y Nyanga (Toulouse), W Lauret (Racing Metro), L Picamoles (Toulouse).
Replacements: B Mach (Castres), Y Forestier (Castres), V Debaty (Clermont Auvergne), S Vahaamahina (Perpignan), D Chouly (Clermont Auvergne), M Machenaud (Racing Metro), R Tales (Castres), G Fickou (Toulouse).
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)
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