Preview: France v Wales talking points

Alun Wyn Jones and Charles Ollivon at 2020 Six Nations launch Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones and France skipper Charles Ollivon (PA)

Wales will land the Six Nations title and complete a Grand Slam if they beat France in Paris on Saturday.

It would represent a considerable turnaround in fortunes, given that Wales won just three of their 10 Test matches last year.

Here, we look at some of the key talking points ahead of an eagerly-awaited encounter at Stade de France.

History is with Wales

Wales have won four Six Nations Grand Slams, and their attempt to secure a fifth clean sweep will see them break new ground if they accomplish it. All their previous successes – in 2005, 2008, 2012 and 2019 – were clinched in Cardiff, but this time it is an away-day mission to Paris. The good news for Welsh fans is that every time a Six Nations Grand Slam has been within touching distance, Wales have never let the opportunity pass them by. They hold a 100 per cent success-rate when it comes to converting four victories into five on a Six Nations stage, while their recent tournament record at Stade de France is also strong, with three wins from the last four visits.

No substitute for experience

Wales will field a starting XV containing a total of 987 caps against France, with 14 of head coach Wayne Pivac’s line-up having enjoyed Grand Slam success under his predecessor Warren Gatland. The exceptions is wing Louis Rees-Zammit, who was just seven-years-old when Wales landed their first Gatland-coached Grand Slam in 2008. And they are led from the front by inspirational captain Alun Wyn Jones, who will make history if Wales topple Les Bleus as the first player to be part of four Six Nations Grand Slam-winning teams.

Pivac deserves praise

This time last year, the Six Nations had been suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic and Wales were reflecting on successive defeats against Ireland, France and England. There was no real improvement in terms of results when Test rugby resumed seven months later as Wales lost four of their next six matches. But Pivac used the Autumn Nations Cup to help develop young talent – players such as Rees-Zammit, Callum Sheedy and James Botham, who are now important Six Nations figures – while big calls were made like switching wing George North to centre and appointing Gethin Jenkins as defence coach. Pivac has been bold and brave in terms of his decision-making.

Fired-up France

France saw their Grand Slam hopes disappear last weekend when they were beaten 23-20 by England in a memorable Twickenham encounter. Les Bleus, though, are not out of the title race. Bonus-point victories over Wales and their final opponents Scotland next week could give France a first Six Nations crown since 2010. It is a tall order to shunt Wales off course, and then back it up by dismissing Scotland in similarly-emphatic fashion, but Fabien Galthie’s men possess sufficient quality to achieve that aim if everything clicks.

Lions places to fight for

If the British and Irish Lions’ summer Test series against world champions South Africa goes ahead as planned, then expect a number of Wales players to feature prominently in Gatland’s squad. At least 10 of Wales’ starting line-up this weekend appear strong bets, including Rees-Zammit, who has taken to international rugby with ease. And what price Alun Wyn Jones being appointed Lions captain? Gatland knows the 35-year-old inside out as a player and person, and while there are a number of candidates – Johnny Sexton, Maro Itoje and Owen Farrell also have their admirers – another Grand Slam triumph could nudge Jones into pole position.

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