Wales v France Preview

by Tom Fox

The first of the Rugby World Cup semi finals sees the two Northern Hemisphere sides, Wales and France, come head to head in Auckland on Saturday in what should be a cracking contest.

Wales have consistently performed throughout the tournament and look to be improving with each passing game. Warren Gatland’s side suffered their only loss of the campaign in their opening fixture against the Springboks where they were beaten by the narrowest of margins, in a game they really ought to have won.

Having subsequently disposed of Fiji and Samoa in the pool stages, Wales then produced a stunning display at the quarter final stage where they put a talented Irish side to the sword in utterly convincing fashion.

Gatland has been forced into one change from this side as the young out-half Rhys Priestland has failed to recover in time from a shoulder injury picked up in the closing stages in the win over Ireland. Priestland is replaced at fly half by James Hook and Stephen Jones comes into the replacements.

Although the Welsh management will be sorry to lose Priestland, who has been outstanding thus far, James Hook is a hugely talented footballer himself and an excellent replacement.

France have endured a somewhat more tumultuous World Cup to date amidst rumours that there is disharmony in the camp, with many reports suggesting that Marc Lievremont has lost the dressing room. Having been beaten convincingly beaten by New Zealand in the pool stages, the French were then incredibly beaten by Tonga.

However in true French style, the French seemingly found form from nowhere to beat England in the last eight of the competition. The much maligned half back partnership of Dimitri Yachvilli and Morgan Parra performed well and created space for the outside backs to operate.

There had been doubts over Yachvilli’s fitness coming into this semi-final but the Biarritz general has been passed fit to take on Wales, meaning the French were able to name an unchanged side.

The battle of the back row will be a key area in the winning of this game as both sides have excelled in this area to date. The French trio of Harinordoquay, Dusatoir and Bonnaire ooze class but Wales have a real gem themselves in Sam Warburton. The Welsh captain in a number seven in the truest sense and is complimented wonderfully by Toby Faletau and Dan Lydiate.

Both sides like to run the ball and have danger men out wide so this clash should make for a great spectacle. It is a very difficult game to call but the bookies make Wales the slightest of favourites. Whoever does come out on top will be contesting the World Cup final in one week’s time.

Wales (XV v France): L Halfpenny; G North, J Davies, J Roberts, S Williams; J Hook, M Phillips; G Jenkins, H Bennett, A Jones, L Charteris, AW Jones, D Lydiate, S Warburton, T Faletau.

Replacements: L Burns, P James, B Davies, R Jones, L Williams, S Jones, S Williams.

France (XV v Wales): M Medard; V Clerc, A Rougerie, M Mermoz, A Palisson; M Parra, D Yachvili; J Poux, W Servat, N Mas, P Pape, L Nallet, T Dusautoir (capt), J Bonnaire, I Harinordoquy.

Replacements: D Szarzewski, F Barcella, J Pierre, L Picamoles, F Trinh-Duc, D Marty, C Heymans

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