Battle of the bulk is likely to be the key to contest
BIG MATCH PREVIEW
FRANCE v WALES (Today, KO 5pm)
THE Champs-Élysées: 1.91 kilometres of straight, undeviating tarmac. Expect the route to be just as direct at the Stade de France this evening.
The weapon of choice for both Les Bleus and Wales will be the bludgeon if the midfield selections are anything to go by.
Forget graceful distribution and flowing runs, it's bulk, impact and collisions. The aim will be to go over rather than go around.
Wales, despite a blunt performance in defeat to Ireland last weekend, stick with Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies – a combined weight of 33 stones.
France, despite a blundering display in defeat to Italy last weekend, combine the admittedly graceful Maxime Mermoz with Mathieu Bastareaud, who tips the scales at 17st 4 lb and has the build of a prop.
“Bastareaud is very physical, very strong and very powerful,” said Davies. “France to get over the gain line to get their forwards moving forward.
“It will be very physical in midfield and me and Jamie need to prepare well and front up.
“Our defence will be key, we need to cut off his time on the ball and stop him before he can get going.
“Bastareaud is a big boy and the collisions will be huge.”
The midfield sums up the approach of the sides and this could well be a brutal encounter; it's just as well there is a rest weekend coming up.
Momentum was the buzz word ahead of the Six Nations openers and it is still on the lips of both France and Wales.
Because if the likes of Roberts, Davies, George North, Bastareaud and Louis Picamoles get going then they will be hard to stop.
It’s that battle of the collisions that will influence the effect of the man that the Welsh public have been demanding be included.
Flanker Justin Tipuric comes in at openside flanker for injured captain Sam Warburton, a move that many have called for given their respective performances at club level.
But Tipuric's Ospreys possess a powerful pack that are often on the front foot, Warburton's Cardiff Blues have a weak front eight that are often in reverse.
If Wales are more Blues-like than Ospreys-like against a gnarled French set of forwards then the openside will be rendered useless, despite his undoubted breakdown prowess and footballing skills.
Yet if stand-in captain Ryan Jones and his team can stop the juggernaut home pack then there is hope of ending the run of eight Test defeats because France coach Philippe Saint-Andre has picked a pretty uninspiring side.
The fear is that there aren't enough ball players in the Wales side to exploit them; that James Hook should have been included to add some guile and flair.
It's always cause for concern when it's said that a centre “isn't a natural passer” but it's even more worrying when it comes from his backs coach at both international and regional level.
That happened this week when former Wales wing Mark Jones, not the most skillful player himself, was talking about Davies.
Yet the Scarlets man, much maligned after flinging the ball into touch twice against Ireland, could well be the key this evening.
If Wales can use decoys and get him running free on the outside and get full-back Leigh Halfpenny into the game then they stand a chance.
If it just becomes a battle of two teams running hard, straight and with Channel Tunnel vision then the French will fancy it. It could be said that tonight's hosts are in disarray; that last week's loss in Rome shows that their encouraging autumn was a false dawn.
But France were tournament favourites a week ago for a reason and have lost one game, not eight on the spin.
Wales won't be as bad as they were seven days ago but a win in Paris may be beyond them.