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France clash a must-win game for Wales

Cardiff's Millennium Stadium. (Picture: virtual_tony2000)

Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium. (Picture: virtual_tony2000)


Wales must win tonight (Friday) against a strong French side to have any hope of winning an unprecedented third straight Six Nations Championship.

Wales must bounce back from their 26-3 defeat to Ireland in

Dublin two weeks ago after kicking off their Six Nations title defence with a 23-15 victory over Italy in Cardiff.

France have won both their games in the Six Nations so far, at home to England and Italy, and a win tonight (Friday) would keep their hopes of a grand slam alive.

Wales have beaten Les Bleus on the last two occasions the sides have met in the Six Nations, but with marauding French centre Mathieu Bastareaud having recovered from a shoulder injury to come into the starting line-up, Wales’s task will not be an easy one.

The 18st 10lb Toulon centre’s threat is added to that of his midfield partner, Wesley Fofana, who is considered one of the brightest talents in world rugby.

The big selection news was Wales head coach Warren Gatland’s decision to omit Lions scrum-half Mike Phillips from his starting line-up.

The 82 half-back is replaced by Osprey Rhys Webb, while George North moves to outside centre from the wing due to Wales’s injury problems in midfield.

Phillips, 31, a double Grand Slam winner, has been a mainstay of Gatland’s side for several seasons but the New Zealander said the form shown recently by Webb persuaded the coaching team to make the change for the crucial Six Nations game at the Millennium Stadium.

With messages of support during the week from former Wales scrum-half Dwayne Peel and many members of the current coaching staff, Webb will undoubtedly be under pressure to perform, and will have to do just that for Wales to have a chance.

While Phillips is a more physical player than his replacement, getting the ball out to the backs quickly could be decisive, with a stark contrast expected by Webb from Phillips’s more leisured approach.

Northampton Saints’ North takes over the 13 shirt after injuries to Scarlets pair Scott Williams and Jonathan Davies, and possible replacement Ashley Beck was also ruled out during the week.

His centre partnership with Jamie Roberts will be crucial in stopping France’s main threat of Bastereaud and Fofana.

Liam Williams replaces North on the wing while lock Luke Charteris returns from injury to replace Andrew Coombs.

With Ospreys fly-half Dan Biggar named on the bench for the first time in this campaign, Rhys Priestland will be under pressure to perform.

For France, flanker Bernard Le Roux, who suffered concussion in the 30-10 win against Italy, is replaced by Racing Metro team-mate Wenceslas Lauret.

Defence coach Shaun Edwards has said Wales must deal effectively with the threat posed by number eight Louis Picamoles who has impressed in the first two matches of the campaign.

With the back-row remaining unchanged with captain Sam Warburton, Taulupe Faletau and Dan Lydiate chosen, they are the ones faced with the task of stopping the 6ft 4in Toulouse giant.

There had been calls for Justin Tipuric to come into the side, but only makes the bench.

Refereeing the match will be Alain Rolland, who remains a controversial figure in Wales following his decision to send off captain Warburton in the World Cup semi-final against France in 2011.

Rolland, who retires at the end of the season, will be refereeing this fixture for the first time since that day and can expect a hostile reception.

Wales v France kicks off at the Millennium Stadium at 8pm tonight (Friday).

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