Bulldozer Bastareaud returns as French look to win ugly
France coach Philippe Saint-Andre may have made only one unenforced change for the "redemption" match against Wales tonight, but the return of human bulldozer Mathieu Bastareaud at centre could hardly be more significant.
After a disastrous start, both France and Wales' seasons hang on this game. France will be happy to win ugly, while Wales only come alive when they play high-tempo rugby. The clash of styles should be compelling.
At 19 stone, Bastareaud has been picked to make his first France start in three years for one reason only. His task is to smash his way through the Wales midfield and to get his rampaging back-row on the front foot, something they failed to do against Italy in Rome.
Deliciously for those who enjoy raw rugby, the world's second heaviest centre, Jamie Roberts, who weighs in at just under 18 stone, and the burly Jonathan Davies will be trying to stop Bastareaud. Good luck gentlemen.
"The boys in the centre are getting bigger and bigger every year and Bastareaud is a big boy, but so is Jamie," Davies said.
Wales need Roberts to stand tall and for his centre-pairing with Davies to resume its normal efficiency. Neither enjoyed their best matches against Ireland last week although when Brian O'Driscoll is on his game it's not easy to shine.
Elsewhere, there is a huge onus for the team to come out firing after their powder-puff start in Cardiff last week. Coach Rob Howley has promised Wales will never "replicate" that again.
Hooker Richard Hibbard will add much-needed physicality and energy in the front-row, while Ryan Jones – who returns at blindside flanker to captain the team – always puts in a massive shift as Wales try to avoid a ninth consecutive Test defeat. Flanker Justin Tipuric replaces captain Sam Warburton, who misses out with a hand injury. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
FRANCE – Y Huget; W Fofana, M Mermoz, M Bastareaud, B Fall; F Michalak, M Machenaud ; Y Forestier, D Szarzewski, N Mas, J Suta, Y Maestri, F Ouedraogo, T Dusautoir (capt), L Picamoles. Reps: B Kayser, V Debaty, L Ducalon, R Taofifenua, D Chouly, M Parra, F Trinh-Duc, F Fritz.
WALES – L Halfpenny; A Cuthbert, J Davies, J Roberts, G North; D Biggar, M Phillips; G Jenkins, R Hibbard, A Jones, A Coombs, I Evans, R Jones (capt), J Tipuric, T Faletau. Reps: K Owens, P James, C Mitchell, L Reed, A Shingler, L Williams, J Hook, S Williams.
France v Wales,
Live, RTE2 & BBC1, 4.30