With the 2017 RBS Six Nations all but wrapped up, both France and Wales will be looking to finish as high as possible on the log when they meet at the Stade de France on Saturday.
France and Wales will lock horns in the final round of the 2017 Six Nations this Saturday. While this game is little more than an exhibition match, with England having already secured the title, we should still be in for a cracking game of rugby with both sides likely to break off the shackles and attack at all costs.
France v Wales | Saturday 18 March | Stade de France | 16:45
To Win (80 Mins)
France 5/10 | Draw 20/1 | Wales 16/10
France | Wales
*Handicap To Be Added Upon Release
The French have made some significant strives towards improvement during this campaign under Guy Novés, but are still far from challenging for the title. Their two wins from four matches puts them in third (behind Ireland on points difference), and one point above Wales and Scotland respectively. A bonus-point win this weekend (as well as other results going their way) could see them finish as high as second place - something nobody would have expected at the beginning of thof season! This, for a team which has battled to remain competitive in tier-one international rugby recently, would be a huge confidence-booster and could be the catalyst for Novés to seriously improve his side going forward.
The performances of (amongst others) no. 8 Louis Picamoles and hooker/ captain Guilhem Guirado have been powerful, to say the least, and it is around these experienced heads that Novés must look to build his team over the next four years. On top of them, Virmi Vakatawa, Baptiste Serin and Brice Dulin seem to be the future of French rugby, and they need to be handled with care going forward - indeed it is players like these who could bring some long-lost swagger back to French rugby.
Wales offer a very tough challenge this weekend. Their performance against Ireland last weekend was superb, and they will be riding that wave of momentum into the Stade de France this Saturday. France will need to solidify their (rather inconsistent) setpiece, and shut down the likes of Dan Biggar and co. in the backs to have any chance of finishing in the top three of the Six Nations for the first time since 2011.
Wales shocked everyone, myself included, with their result against Ireland. The physicality and intensity in their game was something we haven't seen yet in 2017, and the Irishmen just couldn't keep up over eighty minutes. They too will want to finish as high as possible this weekend and, with the knowledge that second place isn't impossible, should come out of the blocks firing once again.
George North reminded us of his British &a Irish Lions credentials with a solid performance that included a brace of tries, while Rhys Webb and Biggar were as dynamic as ever. Alun Wyn Jones' forwards need to match the physicality of the likes of Picamoles, and may look to challenge their opponents at the set-pieces (think line-outs) to put Guirado under pressure. The Stade de France is a difficult place to visit, with a strong Scottish outfit having already been slayed in Week 2, and it will be interesting to see how the Welshmen cope in such an environment, especially considering their inconsistent performances so far this season.
Verdict: France 5/10 *Handicap To Be Added Upon Release
I expect a rather conservative France this weekend, yet I have a feeling that they will grind out another win here to potentially finish in second. Wales have the ability to win in the day, but their inconsistency in their overall game may come to haunt them.