International rugby returns this weekend as Wales travel to Paris for a test match against France at the Stade de France on Saturday night, 8.10pm kick-off UK time.
It’s a game that has nothing on it from a one-off point of view, but will set both sides up for a long Autumn campaign that is important in very different ways as France push for a Six Nations Championship while Wales attempt to bounce back from a disappointing February and March.
In Wayne Pivac’s first proper international window as head coach there was a positive start as Italy were swept aside 42-0 at the Principality Stadium, before three consecutive losses against Ireland, France and England left us out of the Six Nations running and early pressure mounting on Warren Gatland’s successor.
The French win was the first victory in Cardiff for Les Bleus since 2010, with Romain Ntamack the star man as the fly-half amassed 17 points from a try and his boot, while Anthony Bouthier and Paul Willemse were also on the scoresheet in a 23-27 triumph. Dillon Lewis and Dan Biggar scored Wales’ points on the day.
They head back to the Stade de France this weekend though, where Wales have won on three of the last four visits, most recently the stunning comeback in 2019 when the men in red overturned a 16-0 half-time deficit to win 24-19 courtesy of tries from Tomos Williams and a George North brace, as well as the boots of Biggar and Gareth Anscombe.
France have had better form recently, winning three of their four games in the first part of the Six Nations putting them in a position to challenge for the Championship next weekend where a big win against Ireland could be enough to jump their opponents and England.
With that in mind, head coach Fabien Galthie has named a strong side to prepare for that final round of fixtures, with just one change from the side that started in Cardiff earlier in the year as Vincent Rattez gets the nod over Arthur Vincent, and Gael Fickou switches from wing to centre.
Vincent drops to the bench as Mathieur Jalibert misses out on the 23, but otherwise it is as you were for Les Bleus.
France: Anthony Bouthier, Teddy Thomas, Vrimi Vakatawa, Gael Fickou, Vincent Rattez, Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont; Cyril Baille, Julien Marchand, Mohamed Haouas, Bernard Le Roux, Damien Willemse, François Cros, Charles Ollivon (c), Gregory Aldritt
Replacements: Camille Chat, Jean-Baptiste Gros, Demba Bamba, Romain Taofifenua, Dylan Cretin, Baptiste Serin, Arthur Vincent, Thomas Ramos
For Wales there are a number of changes from the side that lost to England last time out as Rob Evans and Ken Owens are injured up front, Ross Moriarty and Josh Navidi aren’t fit in the back row, Tomos Williams is injured at scrum-half, Hadleigh Parkes is no longer available at centre and Liam Williams isn’t sharp enough for international rugby yet in the back three.
Rhys Carre, Ryan Elias, Aaron Wainwright, Taulupe Faletau, Rhys Webb, Jon Davies and Josh Adams are the replacements, while Samson Lee is preferred to Dillon Lewis at tighthead and Cory Hill gets the nod over Jake Ball in the second row.
Alun Wyn Jones is set to equal Richie McCaw’s international cap record on his 139th appearance for Wales and the Lions, while Sam Parry and Louis Rees-Zammit could make their debuts off the bench.
Wales: Leigh Halfpenny, George North, Jonathan Davies, Nick Tompkins, Josh Adams, Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb; Rhys Carre, Ryan Elias, Samson Lee, Cory Hill, Alun Wyn Jones (c), Aaron Wainwright, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau
Replacements: Sam Parry, Nicky Smith, Dillon Lewis, Seb Davies, James Davies, Gareth Davies, Rhys Patchell, Louis Rees-Zammit
It could well be a wet and windy night in Paris, and behind a pack that is not particularly used to playing together it is possible that Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar lean heavily on the kicking game on Saturday night, playing for territory and relying on a strong kick chase and competitive breakdown.
If that kicking game or chase is off though, France have more than enough firepower to shred Wales’ defence, a they showed back in February. The Welsh defence throughout that period was often lacking and will require a big improvement over the next few weeks.
If that defence steps up and Webb and Biggar can manage the game properly then Wales have a chance to get the Autumn up and running with a win, but another loss could have a damaging effect on confidence heading into a final round of the Six Nations game against Scotland.