Tuesday 16 July 2019

Wales must shift hefty French to start on right foot

Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones. Photo: REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes
Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones. Photo: REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

James Corrigan

A fresh Six Nations but a well-worn mantra for Wales.

"The bigger they are, the harder they fall," Josh Navidi, the flanker, said looking ahead to facing France's huge pack tonight.

"This will be old-school rugby, what you were told as a kid."

This will be no child's play, however, not even for 19-year-old France debutant Romain Ntamack - son of legendary wing Emile - on his international debut.

Indeed, if Navidi's adage proves true in the Six Nations opener, the reverberations from the Stade de France could shake the Eiffel Tower.

At a collective 154 stone, there has never been a heavier Six Nations pack, and with Wales weighing in at a paltry 142st - which averages out at only 17st 10lb apiece - it was difficult for Alun Wyn Jones to ignore the differential following his team's final run-out at the stadium yesterday.

"It's probably the biggest pack they could have picked," Jones said, on the eve of his 49th appearance as Wales captain.

"We are fully aware of the strength they have and the way they are likely to play."

Smash 'em and grab 'em - or whatever that translates into in French - that is Jacques Brunel's unashamed vision and, perversely, with a fleet-footed back line assembled, the game plan has added so much intrigue to this Paris night under lights.

Get this: for once, the opposition will know exactly what they will get from Les Bleus. Which France will turn up? The biggest one.

"We know we need to shift their pack around the field and we can do that by moving the ball and tiring them out," Navidi said.

"Is this the biggest pack I've played against? I played Montpellier away a few years ago and they were huge.

"You have to get off the line and get in their faces. You cannot let them come to you and give them a rolling start. You have to match them physically."

The back-row will clearly be crucial, and with Sam Warburton retired and Taulupe Faletau and autumn sensation Ellis Jenkins out through injury, there will be plenty riding on Navidi from the blindside.

It is the other flank to which Wales normally have employed the dreadlocked Cardiff Blue, but he insists he had no preference and having missed the last eight Tests with, first, a shoulder and, then, a knee complaint, he is understandably desperate to return to the red shirt.

And he feels Wales can capitalise on the greater mobility in the loose.

"The more jackalers you have on the park, the more pressure you can put on at every ruck," he said.

Unless Wales freeze - and that might be possible in the plummeting temperatures at 9pm local time - it is easy to see Warren Gatland's men making it six wins out of seven against France, which would be their best run against these rivals in more than 60 years.

And, to up the ante yet further, there is the little matter of the winning run.

Should they triumph again, it will take their streak to 10 games, the best since Graham Henry's Dragons in 1999. A victory in Rome next weekend would draw then level with the great 1910 team.

Interestingly, Gatland has hardly sought to ease the burden by declaring "if we win this game, I think we will win the Six Nations with our home games to come".

Yes, England and Ireland are set to visit Cardiff and even though there would be a visit to Murrayfield awaiting, Grand Slam talk would begin to bubble on the west side of the Severn. Before the rest have even passed or kicked a ball. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

France v Wales, Live, Virgin Media/BBC, 8.0

Telegraph.co.uk

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