Wales will fare better against France than England have done over the past two weeks if they can create promising field positions and good ball. The return of Shane Williams will provide a cutting edge to offer a threat England couldn't muster.
That France are like Wales in loving to throw the ball about is another factor that should suit the home side at the Millennium Stadium today, but the Welsh need to step up their game. There are two facts for Wales to face. First, France are much better defensively than Argentina were last weekend; and second, if France are allowed the same amount of possession as Argentina were in the second half, they will be impossible to keep out.
Wales won't get away with the loose kicking and feeble chasing they were guilty of then. In any case, against France possession will be so important they can't afford to kick so often.
Not that kicking is going to be Wales's strong point if Gareth Thomas is going to occupy the No 12 position. I don't agree that the Welsh captain is at his most valuable at inside-centre. He has many excellent attributes, but kicking is not one of them, and it is vital that you have a kicker in that position.
If Serge Betsen puts pressure on James Hook, who is going to relieve him of the kicking duties? The coach, Gareth Jenkins, is short of options in that department. A fit andin-form Gavin Henson would be ideal, but he was ousted from the squad at an unnecessarily early stage.
His lack of conditioning and attitude were said to have contributed to the coach's decision, but if Henson has been working hard over the past couple of weeks and gets in a couple of good outings for Ospreys, he could be recalled.
Stephen Jones would be another candidate for inside-centre to take the pressure off Hook, but his injury seems more serious than was first thought and he might be out until the quarter-final stage.
I notice that the Blues' outside-half Nicky Robinson has been called up to the squad, and he could occupy the spot outside Hook. It is not only kicking ability that matters, it is distribution. I was concerned in the Argentina match that the back three did notget the swift service they needed, For all their qualities, neither Thomas nor Tom Shanklin have the best distribution skills; their forte is running on to passes.
Pace is such an essential part of the Welsh game that everything must be concentrated on delivering it. It is not inconceivable that they could beat Australia and England and reach the semi-final. It is a question of building on the momentum they created against Argentina and learning from the errors they made. They must get the ball and keep it.
I would feel more confident if they began to look happier in their work. The captain and coach are constantly bristling against criticism, as if they think the world is against them.
The nation is entitled to be critical if England stick 60 points on them, and even ex-players are entitled to their opinion. Nobody can expect to avoid being criticised when things go wrong. What you do istake notice of constructive criticism and ignore the rest.
I don't know what sort of PR advice they are receiving but they are creating the image of being a bunch of bellyachers. The fact is that everyone in Wales is desperate for them to do well.
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