5 key talking points as Wales target Six Nations victory over France

By Sports Desk March 09, 2024

Wales will target a first win of their Guinness Six Nations campaign when they tackle France in Cardiff on Sunday.

Warren Gatland’s team have lost all three matches in this season’s tournament so far, but they host a French side struggling for form.

Here, the PA news agency looks at some key talking points ahead of the game.

A big chance for Wales

Recent history does not favour Wales, having lost their last four Six Nations games against France, although two of those defeats were by just four points. But they have a golden opportunity to end that sequence, taking on a team that saw title hopes effectively extinguished by Ireland on opening night, before edging past Scotland and then being held to a draw at home by Italy. New-look Wales have shown glimpses of promise as Gatland begins building for World Cup 2027 and victory over France would do wonders in terms of that process.

Nervy Italian job

Wales have not finished bottom of the Six Nations for 21 years, but a wooden-spoon decider beckons against Italy in Cardiff next weekend if they are beaten by France. Wales lost all five games of the 2003 tournament under Gatland’s fellow New Zealander Steve Hansen, while Italy triumphed on their last Principality Stadium visit two years ago. Worryingly for Wales, they have suffered 12 defeats from the last 14 Six Nations starts, toppling only Scotland two years ago and Italy in 2023. With two home games to come, Wales have control of their own destiny, but the margins are fine.

Winnett is a winner

Heading into the penultimate round of Six Nations fixtures, few players have made a bigger impact on the tournament than Wales full-back Cameron Winnett. With Liam Williams, Leigh Halfpenny and Louis Rees-Zammit – all previous options in the number 15 shirt – unavailable to Gatland, he turned to 21-year-old Winnett and it has proved an inspired choice. Winnett had played only 15 games of professional rugby before gaining a first Wales squad call-up, but after three Six Nations appearances he topped the statistics for metres carried and metres gained and was the highest-ranked back in terms of carries, leaving the likes of James Lowe and Duhan Van Der Merwe in his slipstream.

France’s World Cup hangover

France had to cope with huge expectation and pressure to win last year’s World Cup on home soil, but it all ended in devastating fashion through a 29-28 defeat against quarter-final opponents South Africa. They then saw mercurial captain Antoine Dupont switch to playing sevens ahead of the Paris Olympics and Les Bleus have simply not recovered during an underwhelming Six Nations campaign. Will a first loss to Wales in Cardiff since 2018 now follow? Neither team has momentum, both sides are in the table’s bottom half, yet France appear to be the ones most vulnerable.

Centres of attention

Wales boss Gatland sprung two major selection surprises ahead of facing France by omitting World Cup centres George North and Nick Tompkins. Joe Roberts makes a first Six Nations start as North’s replacement – with Owen Watkin taking over from Tompkins – and it is a decision that has divided opinion. There are those who understand the rationale at this early stage of a World Cup cycle to test an alternative midfield partnership, but others have been left baffled that two of Wales’ most consistent performers with 155 caps between them are not required on this occasion. Masterstroke or misjudgement?

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