5 key talking points ahead of a challenging French test for Wales

5 key talking points ahead of a challenging French test for Wales

Wales conclude what has been a largely underwhelming Guinness Six Nations campaign when they tackle France in Paris on Saturday.

Warren Gatland’s team are huge outsiders against the free-scoring French, who are fresh from demolishing England 53-10 at Twickenham.

Here, the PA news agency looks at some key talking points heading into the game.

Wales face a formidable challenge

Statistics scream from the page when assessing the size of Wales’ task. One glance at the Six Nations table reveals all, with France having scored 16 tries and 133 points in four games. They are joint-top of the try chart with leaders Ireland, and have amassed more points than any other team. Wales, in contrast, can reflect on just seven touchdowns and the tournament’s worst points difference. Defensively, only Italy have conceded more tries than Gatland’s side, so everything points to Les Bleus dominating. A bonus-point victory for France would keep their title hopes alive, although Ireland remain odds-on favourites.

Antoine Dupont – a master at work

Wales attack coach Alex King has compared the France captain’s influence on international rugby with that of New Zealand superstar Dan Carter, who enjoyed a stellar All Blacks career across 112 Test matches. The dynamic scrum-half’s extraordinary standards never seem to dip, and he has proved the on-field catalyst of French rugby’s renaissance under head coach Fabien Galthie. World player of the year accolade and a Six Nations Grand Slam nestling in his career portfolio, Dupont could now lead France to a first World Cup triumph on home soil in just over seven months’ time. At 26, he is already a true great of the game.

Wales have impressed in Paris

Wales players celebrate after beating France in the 2013 Six Nations (David Davies/PA)

While the bookmakers are unlikely to give Wales even the slightest of glances regarding an away win this weekend, the visitors can at least take heart from recent performances in the French capital. They have won on three of their last five Six Nations visits to Paris, taking the spoils in 2013 (16-6), 2015 (20-13) and 2019 (24-19). And the losses were by just two points on each occasion, suggesting it was not a venue they encountered too much trouble with during Gatland’s previous 11-year stint as head coach. Since he left after the 2019 World Cup, though, France have won a Six Nations Grand Slam and toppled the likes of New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and Ireland in Paris.

Taulupe Faletau joins Wales’ 100-cap club

Faletau will become the eighth player to clock up a century of Test match appearances for Wales when he packs down in the back-row against France. Faletau joins a list that features Alun Wyn Jones, Gethin Jenkins, George North, Dan Biggar, Stephen Jones, Gareth Thomas and Martyn Williams, and he is only the fourth Welsh forward to achieve that landmark. The Cardiff number eight has excelled during a 12-year international career that also includes three British and Irish Lions tours, and his performances have rarely waned. He has been a go-to player for Gatland, who handed him his Wales debut in 2011, and remains a hugely-influential performer.

World Cup picture clearer for Gatland?

Warren Gatland
Wales head coach Warren Gatland will be considering World Cup selection options (Joe Giddens/PA)

Wales have endured a difficult season-and-a-half, winning only four of their last 16 Tests, with Gatland taking over when Wayne Pivac left after the Autumn Nations Series that included a home defeat against Georgia. The World Cup countdown to France 2023 continues, and new players have emerged like centres Mason Grady and Joe Hawkins, wing Rio Dyer, lock Dafydd Jenkins and flanker Jac Morgan, while others currently injured – Dewi Lake, Will Rowlands and Josh Navidi – Gatland will hope can come under consideration. Whether Wales have enough strength in depth and sufficient quality to challenge is questionable, but it is also realistic to expect improved showings during World Cup warm-up games and then into the tournament.