Jonathan Davies: Force is with Wales - but beware the French

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The Independent Online

If you had a choice of watching a few replays of the Six Nations' Championship so far, you'd want to see some of the Welsh tries again and not be reminded of the rest of it. But, having provided the only sparkle in an otherwise dullish tournament, Wales now have to carry the responsibility of being the entertainers, and the easiest temptation is to get too carried away.

If you had a choice of watching a few replays of the Six Nations' Championship so far, you'd want to see some of the Welsh tries again and not be reminded of the rest of it. But, having provided the only sparkle in an otherwise dullish tournament, Wales now have to carry the responsibility of being the entertainers, and the easiest temptation is to get too carried away.

It's not a mistake the Welsh camp will make, because they know that they now face three very hard tests of their new-found confidence. Away matches in France and Scotland and a home clash against Ireland would present problems to any team, but at least Wales have got the monkey of non-achievement off their backs.

It's fair to say that their performances against New Zealand and England in the World Cup 16 months ago brought a very exciting surprise to the proceedings, but they lost both matches, and attractive displays since have also failed to get results.

Learning to win is the most vital part of any team's education and the best part of Wales's progress has been the results. Victory grows on a team and, unlike their rivals, they don't have to make many adjustments to the gameplan.

Had Wales not beaten England - and there were only two points in it, don't forget - they would have approached Italy far more tentatively and might not have produced the exciting surges that brought their win.

The momentum and self-belief is with them. The problem is that France have also won two out of two - only God knows how - so they still have everything to go for. But they are far from happy at the way they've played, and the coach, Bernard Laporte, has dropped three players for Saturday. The full-back Pepito Elhorga, centre Brian Liebenberg and flanker Sébastien Chabal have been replaced by Julien Larrague, Yannick Jauzion and Imanol Harinordoquy. Aurélien Rougerie comes in for the injured winger Jimmy Marlu.

These are good moves. Jauzion offers far more than Liebenberg, while Harinordoquy is an excellent footballer and gives them a better balance.

Despite Wales's starting flourish, France will begin as favourites, and rightly so, because I can't imagine they will carry on playing as badly as they have been or go in with such negative tactics.

Much has been made of the fact that they didn't look like scoring a try against England, and that only Dimitri Yachvili's penalties won the day. But they earned those penalties in the second half by putting the ball through hands and getting behind England.

That would have been a big encouragement to them, but I expect them play a nine-man game and try to tie up the Welsh players. Wales's only answer is to play as they have been and be confident that they have the cutting edge to trouble any team.

My only criticism is that they have a tendency to crab across the field, which makes them easier to defend against when they have an overlap. Someone has to straighten up and pierce the line, like Hal Luscombe did when he burst through to set up the excellent Martyn Williams try against Italy.

The French defence is still strong and organised, and caused England to struggle to cross the gain line, although that was partly England's fault.

I've no doubt that Wales have the capability to upset France if they can continue to perform heroics up front. But they will need to be even stronger in that department to match the French in the scrums, mauls and the line-out catch-and-drives.

In Luscombe's absence, they need to reorganise their backs, and I would put Kevin Morgan at full-back, move Tom Shanklin to the wing and play Gareth Thomas at outside-centre.

They can all hit good angles at pace, and the thought of Shane Williams operating on that beautiful surface makes for an enjoyable prospect.

With the ball in hand, Wales look so threatening, and the ability and the willingness of the forwards to get involved in the moves add an extra dimension to their threat. The move that led to Morgan flipping up the ball for Shane Williams's try last weekend is what rugby is all about.

After the way they folded against Ireland, Scotland have to make amends by beating Italy at Murrayfield. The sides are similar. The Italian forwards might be stronger, but Chris Cusiter and Chris Paterson give the Scots the edge behind. Home advantage is likely to count.

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