French fret over Traille as Charvis returns for Wales

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The Independent Online

On Thursday, their captain Fabien Pelous was crowing about how superior France were compared with all the other teams in the Six Nations, but last night the French were not quite so cocksure.

Indeed, the French management resembled a bunch of fussy hens, clucking over the state of health of one of their key players, centre Damien Traille, who has a haematoma of his right thigh.

He was due to take a fitness test yesterday morning to find out if he had recovered, but that proved inconclusive and now the French medical team will have another look at Traille's thigh injury tomorrow morning.

Yesterday, the coach Bernard Laporte called up the 30-year-old Stade-Français centre Stéphane Glas, who won the last of his 37 caps almost three years ago, as cover, while the Toulouse wing Cedric Heymans is likely to replace Traille if he does not recover.

The news of the disruption to French plans to extend this season's run of Six Nations victories to three, will be welcome to Wales, who are looking to get back on track after coming unstuck in Dublin a fortnight ago.

They have the Tarbes flanker Colin Charvis back to lead them in a fixture they have not won for the last two seasons. "Colin brings a lot of leadership to the side, and a lot of quality," said his coach, Steve Hansen. "He started off slowly, but he has developed into a very good leader. He is getting more comfortable with it and he understands more what is required. He's an intelligent man. He understands the game very well and he gets motivated by the role. It is something he enjoys."

It is in the back row that the issue is likely to be settled. Martyn Williams was the unlucky player to be axed to make way for Charvis, and France dropped a similarly talented man, Olivier Magne, to the bench as well, in order to accommodate another "old stager", Thomas Lièvremont and give the Biarritz No 8 his first start for four years.

Lièvremont, who is 30, has hopes of sticking around as a permanent member of the France squad until the next Rugby World Cup in 2007. The Biarritz captain said yesterday: "I want to show Bernard Laporte what I can do and prove to him that he was right to call me up."

With Imanol Harinordoquy moving from the middle of the back row to openside, and Serge Betsen at No 6, the French present a formidable and strong trio for the Welsh to try to contain.

Harinordoquy scored two tries in France's unconvincing victory over Italy in the previous round of matches and takes a lot of stopping.

And to him can now be added the bulk of Lièvremont, whose main role against the Welsh will be to break through the defence with his physical strength.

If Heymans replaces Traille, then the French midfield will have lost little of its physical presence, but the Welsh midfield should still possess the pace and nous to cope, however awkward the opposition.

That key area is where Mark Taylor, the in-form Llanelli Scarlets' centre has been recalled for his first match since facing England in the World Cup quarter-finals last November, and having won back his place he is clearly determined to hang on to it.

Taylor, who was 31 at the end of last month, said: "I accept that the centre position is hotly contested, but as long as I feel I am wanted by Wales then I will carry on. I have a point to prove and it is up to me to take the opportunity."

In fact Taylor is not the only player with a point to prove tomorrow. That is something with which the whole of the 22-man squad is charged. If the French heavyweights can be contained then the Welsh bantams may yet have something to crow about come tomorrow evening.

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