Wednesday 22 November 2017

Owens: Paris merger could fire up French

“It depends what sort of mindset the French players have,” Owens said. Photo: Getty
“It depends what sort of mindset the French players have,” Owens said. Photo: Getty

James Corrigan

With protest and, yes, revolt, hanging thick in the Paris air, Wales are determined not to be drawn into the belief that the bombshell of the proposed merger between Stade Français and Racing 92 will work against France.

The rugby emotions are certainly running high in this city, with the Stade squad calling a strike and the French players' union promising "big disruption".

Yesterday, the French league decided to postpone this weekend's matches involving the two capital teams, "to preserve the equity of the Top 14", with crunch talks set for Monday.

But the five players from the Paris clubs in the France match-day squad have to carry on regardless and Wales hooker Ken Owens feels this could go one of two ways.

Of course, there is the possibility of distraction, but there is also the little matter of their future employment to play for and there could be no better shop window.

This could apply not only to the Stade and Racing representatives but the rest as well. Because very soon there could be 45 top-class performers looking for clubs, and there would be players outside Paris who would be ousted in the fallout.

"It depends what sort of mindset the French players have," Owens said. "They could be playing for their contracts, so there is all sorts of motivation. It must be a difficult time for them, but that's professional sport."

So much for a dead rubber. There would be plenty riding on this encounter between the championship's two most miserly defences anyway. Both sides could finish second in the table - and for France that would be their best finish in six years.

For Wales, the magic placing is fourth. If they were to win and Ireland were to lose to England they would leapfrog Joe Schmidt's team into fourth in the world rankings - and would be one of the top seeds at the World Cup draw in May.

It would be quite the turnaround. A week ago, Rob Howley, the stand-in head coach, knew that defeats in the final two matches would mean they plummeted to ninth in the rankings and in danger of a "pool of death". The vultures truly would have been circling then.

Instead, they are buoyant as they seek a sixth straight win over Les Bleus. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

France v Wales, Live, RTE/BBC, 2.45pm

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