By Liam Corcoran
Whilst some people are against Friday night kick-offs in the Six Nations, so much so that they are being axed in the future, there is no denying that the Principality Stadium and the surrounding Cardiff city centre are absolutely bouncing whenever the Welsh host an opponent on a Friday, and this week’s clash is shaping up to be a fiery affair that could turn the heat up on the Welsh capital even more.
With both sides undefeated this far, Wales drawing away to Ireland and defeating Scotland at home and France battling to victories against both Italy and Ireland in the Stade de France, it is sure to be an absolute cracker of a match, as the fixture between the two so often is.
Wales did not alter their line up between the trip to the Aviva and the Scotland match, but Warren Gatland has made a few changes in anticipation for the visit of the French. Out of favour winger, Alex Cuthbert, who scored a grand slam winning try against France in 2012, returns to the starting fifteen in the place of Blues teammate Tom James as well as first starts of the campaign for Dan Lydiate and second row ,Bradley Davies, replacing Justin Tipuric and the injured Luke Charteris respectively. From these changes it seems Gatland is wary of being bullied by France in the same way Ireland were two weeks ago, and the Kiwi does not want to fall to the sword as Joe Schmidt’s men did, hence the inclusion of the more physically powerful players.
France, on the other hand, have made 5 changes to their team, with a debut handed to winger Djibril Camara and starts for Scrum-half Maxime Machenaud, flanker Antoine Burban, lock Paul Jedrasiak and prop Rabah Slimani. Guy Noves will be hoping that these changes can alter the course of France’s fate as they hope to keep their Grand Slam hopes alive, something that they will need to do by breaking a losing streak against the Welsh that stretches back to the controversial World Cup semi-final in 2011. Cardiff’s Principality Stadium is not their favourite arena either, with the side losing their last 4 trips to the ground including two losses during the 2015 World Cup.
Wales will be hoping that backs like George North and Jamie Roberts can keep up their form of late as Wales look to bring more flair to their attacking play, an approach that fly-half Dan Biggar will need to be pivotal in. For France, they will look to breach a Welsh defence that they have found difficult to penetrate in the past, with Brice Dulin’s try last year the first time they breached Shaun Edwards’ defensive structure since that same semi-final five years ago.
Englishman Wayne Barnes will be in the middle of what is sure to be an incredibly physical match and possibly quite open, as both teams look to continue their expansive attacking play. George North has made more metres than anyone else in the championship this season (177) but France as a team have made more than anyone else with an impressive 795 metres made.
Liam Williams, Alex Cuthbert, Jonathan Davies, Jamie Roberts, George North, Dan Biggar, Gareth Davies; Rob Evans, Scott Baldwin, Samson Lee, Bradley Davies, Alun Wyn Jones, Dan Lydiate, Sam Warburton (capt), Taulupe Faletau.
Replacements: Ken Owens, Gethin Jenkins, Tomas Francis, Jake Ball, Justin Tipuric, Lloyd Williams, Rhys Priestland, Gareth Anscombe.
Maxime Medard, Vrimi Vakatawa, Maxime Mermoz, Jonathan Danty, Djbril Camara, Jules Plisson, Maxime Machenaud; Jefferson Poirot, Guilhem Guirado (capt), Rabah Slimani, Paul Jedrasiak, Alexandre Flanquart, Wencelsas Lauret, Antoine Burban, Damien Chouly.
Replacements: Camille Chat, Uini Atonio, Vincent Pelo, Yoann Maestri, Loann Goujon, Sebastien Bezy, Francois Trinh-Duc, Gael Fickou.