Wales have played four, won four, in the RBS 6 Nations 2012, but they face perhaps their sternest test to date in the final round at Cardiff Millennium Stadium on Saturday, when they face the Rugby World Cup Runners-Up, France.
Wales have named an unchanged back line for the fifth match in a row – the sort of championship consistency and luck with injuries that augers well for an unbeaten campaign – with three Cardiff Blues and three Scarlets joined by half back Mike Phillips who plays his club rugby for Bayonne in France – sure to add a little needle at the back of the scrum.
Wales also see the return of their captain, Sam Warburton, who was absent for their 20 point victory over Italy last week.
Importantly for Wales, they have made only three changes to the starting lineup which lost – by just one point – to France in the RWC semi-final at Eden Park. Those players being Shane Williams, who retired, Huw Bennet, injured, and Luke Charteris, who will start this Saturday’s match on the replacements bench.
France’s side seem to have lost, rather than gained, since that tournament and, despite possessing great ability, have been held by Ireland and beaten by an on-paper weak England side in France. Wales have already beaten that England, albeit narrowly, which shows a close match is all but guaranteed in Millennium Stadium, given there are fewer than 5 points in any of the comparative fixtures: Ireland v Wales, England v Wales, France v Ireland and France v England.
Speaking ahead of the match, on the team announcement, Wales head coach, Warren Gatland, told:
“We are obviously aware of what this game means to the fans, 60,000 of them came to the Millennium Stadium during the Rugby World Cup to watch us face France in the semi-final on the television screens and that tells you everything about how dedicated they are,”
“But this weekend we play in front of a sell-out 74,500 crowd with a chance to make history in Cardiff, they will be there to watch us in the flesh, they can make a real and positive contribution to the atmosphere and, like us, will be thinking of nothing other than the here and now.”
“In camp all we can and must do is make preparations as normal, the magnitude of the game is not lost on us but it is irrelevant to how we prepare – we have our captain back and, although Justin Tipuric is unlucky after playing well in his place last week, Sam’s presence is a welcome boost to everyone.”
Wales v France looks like it could well be another five point game. If Wales can continue their much improved scoring form, they look like they have what it takes to pull off an impressive Grand Slam in what has been, to date, an ultra competitive RBS 6 Nations tournament.
But never discount the French. When you least expect it, France can produce something magnifique. All eyes on Cardiff, on Saturday, then.
Wales Starting XV v France – RBS 6 Nations 2012
- 15 Leigh HALFPENNY (CARDIFF BLUES)
- 14 Alex CUTHBERT (CARDIFF BLUES)
- 13 Jonathan DAVIES (SCARLETS)
- 12 Jamie ROBERTS (CARDIFF BLUES)
- 11 George NORTH (SCARLETS)
- 10 Rhys PRIESTLAND (SCARLETS)
- 9 Mike PHILLIPS (BAYONNE)
- 1 Gethin JENKINS (CARDIFF BLUES)
- 2 Matthew REES (SCARLETS)
- 3 Adam JONES (OSPREYS)
- 4 Alun Wyn JONES (OSPREYS)
- 5 Ian EVANS (OSPREYS)
- 6 Dan LYDIATE (NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS)
- 7 Sam WARBURTON (CARDIFF BLUES, CAPT)
- 8 Toby FALETAU (NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS)
- 16 Ken OWENS (SCARLETS)
- 17 Paul JAMES (OSPREYS)
- 18 Luke CHARTERIS (NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS)
- 19 Ryan JONES (OSPREYS)
- 20 Lloyd WILLIAMS (CARDIFF BLUES)
- 21 James HOOK (PERPIGNAN)
- 22 Scott WILLIAMS (SCARLETS)
Wales v France will kick-off at 14:45 GMT on Saturday 17th March 2012, at Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Wales.