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Six Nations Preview: France vs Wales

By James Harrington
France's Camille Lopez

France vs Wales at Stade de France

(Saturday, March 18, 10:45pm HKT)

There’s plenty to play for in Paris this weekend

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What we can expect

Nip-tuck rugby with plenty of bang and boom up front.

France

France started to enjoy themselves last week against Italy in Rome, and coach Guy Noves looked more relaxed than he has for some time as he announced the team for this weekend’s festivities in Paris. And that newfound smile on French rugby faces could be a problem for Wales – unless they can wipe it off pretty smartish. Sebastien Vahaamahina returns to the starting line-up in place of Julien Le Devedec after missing last week’s Roman holiday with a back injury, while Camille Chat and Damien Chouly return to the bench.

Matchday 23: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Noa Nakaitaci, 13 Remi Lamerat, 12 Gael Fickou, 11 Virimi Vakatawa, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Baptiste Serin; 1 Cyril Baille, 2 Guilhem Guirado (c), 3 Rabah Slimani, 4 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 5 Yoann Maestri, 6 Fabien Sanconnie, 7 Kevin Gourdon, 8 Louis Picamoles. Replacements: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Uini Atonio, 18 Eddy Ben Arous, 19 Julien Le Devedec, 20 Damien Chouly, 21 Antoine Dupont, 22 Francois Trinh-Duc, 23 Yoann Huget

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Wales

No change, no surprise from Rob Howley after the mighty bosh worked for Wales against Ireland under the Principality roof in what is likely to be the final Friday night Six Nations match for some time. That win was built on ferocious intensity and high-impact defence. Wales will need more of the same this weekend if they are going to come away with the win they need to have a chance of moving up to fourth in World Rugby’s rankings just in time for the World Cup draw in Japan in May.

Matchday 23: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb; 1 Rob Evans, 2 Ken Owens, 3 Tomas Francis, 4 Jake Ball, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 6 Sam Warburton, 7 Justin Tipuric, 8 Ross Moriarty. Replacements: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Nicky Smith, 18 Samson Lee, 19 Luke Charteris, 20 Taulupe Faletau, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Sam Davies, 23 Jamie Roberts

All eyes on: Camille Lopez

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France have lacked a recognised world class kicker throughout the tournament – but Lopez demonstrated he’s no mug from the kicking tee against Italy last time out. How he performs against the usually reliable combination of Leigh Halfpenny and Dan Biggar could be crucial to French hopes.

Key battle: The back rows

Have you seen them? Ow. And Ow. And Ow.

Prediction

It’ll be close and much will depend on Lopez, but France by 6.

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