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France v Wales pundits find it hard as Woodward predicts French win and Warburton expects Welsh title

www.walesonline.co.uk

France v Wales tonight provides a fitting Six Nations Super Saturday finale, even if it isn’t quite the last game of the tournament.

Everyone agrees it’s going to be tight but the pundits are also split on who will edge the encounter in Paris.

Here’s a round-up from some of the big names in the UK media.

Sir Clive Woodward, Daily Mail

I have yet to find a Wales fan or pundit who predicted a Grand Slam, so there is no pressure whatsoever on Wayne Pivac and his squad at the Stade de France on Saturday night.

A Slam would be a huge bonus for Wales. Failing that, the championship would be a huge achievement.

Having said that, I am still tipping France to win.

Bizarrely, this is their first home game of this Covid-affected 2021 Six Nations and that’s another reason why I believe they will raise their game for the visit of Wales. I’m expecting a big French reaction and a fast start. The key for Wales will be matching that.

Alun Wyn Jones has flexed his muscles again after a quiet autumn, the influential Ken Owens has returned from injury, Taulupe Faletau is firing again and Jonathan Davies has overcome more injury issues to start looking the world-class performer he is. Justin Tipuric is back to his very best, Josh Adams is still a lethal finisher. These are all mighty players.

Wales have the firepower to really tackle the French every which way but I also think France themselves will see that as a challenge. It will spark them up.

So I’m taking France to win a Six Nations classic and if that does happen, of course the subplot will be whether the French can claim a try bonus point and/or whether Wales could pick up losing bonus points ahead of next Friday’s finale. Everything to play for.

Sam Warburton, The Times

Beating Shaun Edwards’ line speed in defence will be critical. Attacking kicks are an option but for me more important is the speed of ball from carrying. England were superb at that last weekend, with Tom Curry and Billy Vunipola carrying well and you could pause the video on moment of contact as scrum half Ben Youngs went to play the ball and you could still see the French players folding into position, so they were not ready to come off the line.

So Wales must carry well. It is not necessarily about making huge yardage but more about winning the collision, presenting the ball well, clearing out efficiently and getting the ball away quickly before the defensive line is set.

The aerial kicking game will be vital too. Full back Brice Dulin and fly half Matthieu Jalibert looked shaky under the high ball against England.

I do think France are favourites to win, but I also think that they are not as formidable a side as it looked they might be during the autumn.

There are chinks for Wales to expose, and Wales can win, but, even if they don’t, I would back them to take a losing bonus point and that should be enough to take the title.

Maggie Alphonsi, Telegraph

I have been working with Shane Williams and Gareth Thomas recently, and I have been struck by the respect and admiration they have for him. His peers realise quite how vital Tipuric is to the Welsh side, and there is no higher praise.

Warren Gatland has always been a huge fan, and it would be no surprise to me to see Tipuric start for the Lions this summer. I would have him in my side, too, although I would move Tipuric to No 6 and play Tom Curry at openside.

His impact around the field would be balanced by Curry’s incredible work at the breakdown, and would work brilliantly with the thrust from No 8 of a Billy Vunipola or Taulupe Faletau.

Tipuric can pretty much do it all, and if he gets the better of Ollivon on Saturday then Wales will have taken a big step towards the Grand Slam.

Mike Phillips

France have changed over the last year or so.

Wales, even in the World Cup, were lucky to beat France. On that occasion, I thought they did outplay us, really. They had a man sent off again, so we’ve been quite lucky in that sense.

They will present opportunities, they will be a real threat with ball in hand and they can score some brilliant tries from anywhere. They do lack a bit of discipline at times.

There will be opportunities for Wales and I think the confidence this side is showing now, the firepower in he back-three and the back-row I think we’ll just be too strong for them and I think we’ll just manage to get the victory.

It’s a case of channelling that sort of energy and making sure the focus is there, which it will be.

Rugbyrama, France

Considered by many to be the final of this Six Nations tournament, this meeting between France and Wales should have the fans on their toes.

Defeated by a breath at Twickenham last week (23-20), France must redeem itself at the Stade de France. The Blues will face the surprise and undefeated leaders of the competition. The Welsh rely on their iron defence and their attacking individualities to win matches.

In line with what Fabien Galthié’s men have been showing us for some time, and in view of the players’ spirit of revenge after the cruel defeat of last week, we see a French win.

Nigel Owens, WalesOnline

I think the template for success came from what we saw against England in Cardiff a few weeks back. Wales were physically stronger in the closing 20 minutes, that put pressure on the England players and forced those errors which Alun Wyn Jones and his team capitalised upon so splendidly.

We need to put France under similar pressure, win the collision area, really take it to them and make Dupont play the game off the back foot. He can still be a genius then, but at least Wales are the ones playing front foot rugby.

At the same time, in what is bound to be a very close contest, Wales need to take any chances that do come their way. I felt two or three tries went begging against Italy. When they get into the danger zone in Paris, Wales can’t afford to let a sloppy forward pass mean a try is ruled out against France because unfortunately that could prove costly in the final reckoning.

Another thing I feel Wales have in their favour is the fact that the Stade de France will be empty and trust me, from my experiences of refereeing there, it will represent a world of difference. A packed ground in Paris really lifts the French players, those chants of ‘Allez Les Bleus’ ringing around the whole stadium, and the lack of spectators is definitely something that could make a difference in such a tight game.

Wales to clinch the Grand Slam – just. It will be exceptionally close.

www.walesonline.co.uk

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