Clerc ready to face up to Williams in battle of the big little men
France winger Vincent Clerc insisted yesterday that he has no intention of letting his opposite number, Shane Williams, chalk up another victory in the battle of the big little men in Saturday's semi-final at Eden Park.
The pair have come to face-to-face several times; most tellingly in the finale to the 2008 Six Nations championship, when Williams scored one of the tries in a 29-12 victory that delivered a Grand Slam to Wales. Clerc (30) is joint top try-scorer in this World Cup on six tries. The Toulouse wing is a fan of Williams, but he is fully aware that France will have to snare the Osprey or they will be in trouble.
"Shane is an exceptional player, very explosive, dynamic and athletic," said Clerc. "He is everywhere round the pitch. His finishing from all areas of the pitch is outstanding. It's difficult to defend against a player who is small but still very strong."
Whereas France have stuttered in reaching this point, Wales have looked fluid and authoritative after their opening-round reverse against South Africa. "The Welsh team has progressed a lot and along with the All Blacks, they have played the best rugby in this tournament," said Clerc.
Much as France are wary of the threat posed by Williams, they have identified another player as the principal danger.
"Jamie Roberts is their key player," said France scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili, just back on the training field after recovering from the dead leg that forced him off against England. "He always carries the ball and crosses the line."
Roberts will be eager to see who lines up inside him when Wales name their team in Auckland today. There are grave doubts about the fitness of Rhys Priestland, the 24-year-old Scarlets fly-half who took a heavy blow to the shoulder against Ireland and has been receiving intensive treatment. (© Daily Telegraph, London)