Wales hope Justin Tipuric can pull side out of nosedive against France

Late revival against the Irish gives Howley's men optimism to face 'angry' and wounded France

Lies, damned lies and rugby statistics. Every number crunched out of Wales's opening Six Nations engagement with Ireland last weekend pointed to a home victory. More possession than England enjoyed in thumping Scotland, 65 per cent of the match played on Irish territory, more line breaks, fewer penalties conceded, forcing the Irish into 176 tackles; it is a lengthy list but it is missing the key number, the one that makes the rest irrelevant.

"When you lose," said Rob Howley, Wales's stand-in coach, "it certainly focuses the mind." Wales should then have an intense focus when they emerge into the Gallic din of the Stade de France this evening, ushered out of the away changing room under instruction to correct a run of eight straight losses.

The last five of those have come on home turf, the worst sequence in Welsh history, but a change of scenery offers no obvious relief. Wales have won only three times in Paris since 1975, the last eight years ago.

But so much for the numbers game. This is the fixture that does not add up. The Grand Slam champions against the pre-competition favourites, both scrabbling winless in Italy's wake. Both contemplating glasses half empty. For the loser the season will be reduced to the dregs.

The response by the respective coaches has been one of restraint. Howley has made three changes, one enforced by Sam Warburton's shoulder injury, his opposite number Philippe Saint-André just two and one of those was also down to injury, to his captain Pascal Papé. "It's in defeat that we learn," suggested Saint-André coolly.

In Papé's absence, Saint-André has returned the captaincy to Thierry Dusautoir. The Welsh are also led from the back row by a returning captain in Ryan Jones, one of three survivors of their last victory in Paris, and it is the contest in the back row that will do much to determine the direction of travel. That and the performances of the two No 10s, both of whom, Frédéric Michalak and Dan Biggar, are under grumbling pressure to justify their coaches' faith.

Justin Tipuric came off the bench to dramatic and immediate effect against Ireland. His dynamism invigorated the men in red and he would have been handed the No 7 shirt whether Warburton had been fit or not. It will only be the 23-year-old Osprey's fourth outing in the Six Nations – and 12th cap in all – but he has already won many admirers, not least the former England captain Lewis Moody, who views him as a potential British Lion in waiting.

In the blue corner, Dusautoir has described the mood in the French camp this week as "angry". An autumn campaign that featured a drubbing of Australia raised expectations ahead of the Six Nations but Rome was a humbling experience. "We weren't good enough to win a Six Nations match," said Dusautoir. "We have to tell ourselves that the tournament didn't end in Rome. I think our pride was hurt enough that we will be able to get ourselves up for the Welsh game."

That is a cue for an early onslaught from a physical home side – the return of the rumbustious Mathieu Bastareaud in the centre adds ever more bulk (at over 18st he is heavier than any of England's front row) – and it was Welsh failings in the opening stages against Ireland that were to prove decisive.

Wales conceded three tries in their entire campaign last season; Ireland matched that in 43 minutes in Cardiff. Management and players have been at a loss to explain the sluggish, error-strewn opening.

"The atmosphere was there, spurring us on, but it just didn't happen for us," said Gethin Jenkins, who will collect his 96th cap today.

"We didn't have that edge you need in that first 20 minutes. We've talked about it a lot. I don't think there is much you can change. Everyone is mentally focused, it's about getting pumped up and rising to the challenge."

One element that must rise to the challenge is the Welsh blitz defence. Shaun Edwards has been forced to defend his defensive methods this week, insisting that it was not the idea that failed, rather the men putting it into practice – if they had blitzed as instructed then Ireland would certainly not have scored that soft opening try.

It will be thoroughly tested again this evening. France did show sparks against Italy, Benjamin Fall's excellent try demonstrating the side's inherent ability, and on French soil they remain rarely bettered.

Yet as ever France flick between extremes with a shrug of the shoulders. The autumn saw Australia utterly routed, with Michalak effortlessly pulling the strings, and 39 points scored against Argentina. The mercurial Toulon No 10 was poor against Italy but Saint-André has stuck with him, as has Howley with Biggar, fitful against Ireland and at fault for one try. This is a struggle of the imperfect 10s. Biggar settled in the second period last weekend – Tipuric swung the momentum and suddenly he had the space to conduct proceedings and show flashes of his regional form.

"Dan warmed to the task and his second-half display was good," said Howley. "He did well to recover from the mistake of the charge-down [that cost a try] and we must not put pressure on the No 10.

"There are 23 players who play for Wales. The No 10 is an individual who has a style of play that can offer us a lot, and we are prepared to give Dan the time he needs."

Where the game will be won and lost

The first 20 minutes

Expect a thunderous opening between two sides with amends to make. Wales were terrible in the opening minutes against Ireland and it cost them the game. France too have been uneasy starters – conceding early scores to England and Ireland at home last year before successfully playing catch up.


Both last week's captains are consigned to the stands through injury – their stand-ins, Ryan Jones and Thierry Dusautoir, both have ample experience but need wider support. A lack of leadership from senior players was a feature of the respective defeats in Cardiff and Rome.

Marks out of 10

Neither Frédéric Michalak nor Dan Biggar shone on the opening weekend. This is a huge test for Biggar, in whom Rob Howley has shown admirable faith, as Philippe Saint-André has in Michalak and his half-back partner Maxime Machenaud, who were poor against Italy.

If the Welsh lose again... they could always take up boxing?

If the Welsh were boxers, they'd be on the ropes given their recent run. But if it doesn't work out for them on the pitch they could always try a bit of pugilism. It is paying off for the former All Black Sonny Bill Williams and the former Aussie fly-half Quade Cooper.

Williams won his sixth pro fight yesterday in farcical circumstances when the heavyweight title bout with Francois Botha in Brisbane was cut short. Williams was in trouble against the South African but won on points. But there was confusion when the bout, scheduled for 12 rounds, was ended after 10.

Cooper won his maiden bout with a first-round knockout.


Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral