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French Rugby Column February 22 || By: Howard Johnson

April 24, 2020 2 min read

France will head to Cardiff for their Six Nations meeting with Wales
this Friday evening in confident mood after showing in their first two
games against Scotland and Ireland that they have both the firepower
and the steel to do battle with the best the Northern Hemisphere has
to offer.

After brushing aside an ineffectual Ireland in Paris Marc
Lievremont’s men will know they have to step their game up once
more when they meet the Welsh head on in their own back yard. It
won’t be easy. Warren Gatland’s side have big question marks hanging
over their style of play right now. But if there’s one thing the Welsh
always bring to the party it’s fire, passion and commitment. Bolstered
by their ‘get out of jail free’ last five minutes against the Scots, Wales
will feel this is the moment to step up to the plate and prove they can
be title contenders. Fail against the French, though, and the Welsh are
staring at a potentially catastrophic tournament. It really is all to play
for.


You’ll probably be surprised to hear it, but the French have never won
three consecutive games during Lievremont’s reign, which now
stretches back as far as 2007. It’s a fact that won’t be lost on Gatland
as he tries to motivate his troops to secure a second successive victory
in this year’s competition. And he’ll have more good news to lay on his
team in the knowledge that both Vincent Clerc and Fulgence
Ouedraogo, two of the standout performers in that victory over the
Irish, will both be missing from the French line-up this Saturday.

Montpellier’s Ouedraogo, in particular, has been in crunching form at
flanker of late and will be sorely missed by his team mates. He’s the
kind of player who doesn’t grab many headlines or make much noise,
but he always puts in a serious shift at the coalface, doing the dirty
work at the breakdown with minimum fuss and maximum efficiency.
In all the French will pitch up in Cardiff without 11 players who could
realistically have been looking to start for their country, including
formidable talent such as Sylvain Marconnet, Aurelien Rougerie and
Jean-Baptiste Elissalde. But such is the strength in depth that ‘Les
Bleus’ can boast at the minute there won’t be too many concerns that
France are considerably weakened.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Wales will miss the players who are unavailable to them – the likes of Alun Wyn Jones and golf buggy enthusiast Adam Powell – more than the French will miss theirs and if the visitors play to the best of their
ability they can overcome the hostile environment and come away with
a victory. It’s a big ‘if’, though. It will be anything but easy at the
Millennium Stadium and we all know that the French have a nasty
habit of turning in the odd stinker of a performance in the midst of a
run of great form. For a variety of reasons I’m hoping that won’t be
this Friday night. Not least of which is that as a proud Englishman I’m
keeping my fingers crossed that the French will save the worst till last
when they meet Martin Johnson’s men in Paris in the last game of the
tournament on March 20!