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France lack mental toughness away from home, says ex-Wales star Popham

FORMER Welsh international back-rower Alix Popham has questioned whether France have the mental toughness to emerge victorious in Cardiff tonight.

The French have historically been poor travellers, and have not won in Cardiff since a Friday night fixture in 2010.

The former Scarlets favourite is well accustomed to the French psyche, having spent two seasons representing Brive in the Top 14.

Former Welsh international Alix Popham

Former Welsh international Alix Popham

“When I was with Brive the mentality in training before a home game was completely different to an away game,” said the 33-times capped forward.

“Before a home game everyone was focussed, everybody’s mind is on winning the game on Saturday.

“I think maybe it’s a lack of mental toughness, they get that from a young age, but away games are not as important as home games to the French.

“That’s just the way it is in France.

“It is improving with the foreign influence in the Top 14, but there is going to be that 5% at the back of their mind that it’s not a home game.”

Arguably the most controversial selection for tonight’s test match, has been the decision to drop the super talented Justin Tipuric, for defensive linchpin Dan Lydiate.

The 36-year-old said: “I think Tipuric’s been playing very well, and will be gutted not to be involved.

“But he’s picked Sam as a captain, he’s shown that he’s a world class player over the last five years with Gatland, and you couldn’t drop your captain like that.

“Sam’s not playing badly, but I just think that Tipuric is playing a little better, but you can’t drop your captain like that.”

However, Popham echoed Gatland’s claims that Lydiate is the right man to cut down France’s powerful ball carriers.

“I think with Lydiate he’s done well when he’s come on, but the game that they are going to be playing against the French, who are very physical, they need a player like Lydiate in,” he said.

“I think you’ve got to take each game as it comes, and every game is different.

“I think he’s selected this side to beat France in Cardiff tonight, and next week will be looked at on the Monday.

“In terms of selection he can only go one game at a time and that’s what he seems to be doing.”

Despite expecting a stern French challenge, Popham believes that home advantage should see Wales keep their Championship hopes alive.

“I think Wales will be too strong at home, and emerge 26-19 winners.”

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