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Wales keen on payback by wrecking France’s Grand Slam hopes

March 9, 2022 GMT
France's players celebrate at the end of the Six Nations 2022 rugby match between Scotland and France at the Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh, Scotland, Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022. France beat Scotland by 36-17. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)
France's players celebrate at the end of the Six Nations 2022 rugby match between Scotland and France at the Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh, Scotland, Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022. France beat Scotland by 36-17. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)
France's players celebrate at the end of the Six Nations 2022 rugby match between Scotland and France at the Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh, Scotland, Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022. France beat Scotland by 36-17. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)
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France's players celebrate at the end of the Six Nations 2022 rugby match between Scotland and France at the Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh, Scotland, Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022. France beat Scotland by 36-17. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)
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France's players celebrate at the end of the Six Nations 2022 rugby match between Scotland and France at the Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh, Scotland, Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022. France beat Scotland by 36-17. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)

CARDIFF, Wales (AP) — As they celebrated a six-try thumping of Scotland, France captain Antoine Dupont noted something else to be happy about.

“One more away game,” he said two Saturdays ago at Murrayfield.

Their second and last game away from Paris is upon them: Wales in Cardiff in the first Friday night lights game in the Six Nations in three years.

Unbeaten France is on the verge of achieving the Grand Slam and title for the first time in 12 years, and can almost taste it.

After Wales, the French return home to close the championship against England next week.

But Wales feels like a bigger obstacle. The Welsh are rebuilding and not as streetwise as they were a year ago, but they remain far more comfortable at their impressive home stadium, and backed by legions of fans who have a late kickoff to warm up to.

Wales’ title defense is toast after losses in Ireland and England, but the team’s confidence was shored up at Twickenham two weeks ago after scoring three tries from 17-0 down and falling just short of victory.

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If Wales can play more like that — keep the ball, ruck quick, and force France to double-take — then France will struggle to contain the home side.

“It’s great. It’s high tempo, ball in our hands,” midfielder Jonathan Davies said. “The ball is the most important thing. That’s all we’ve wanted to do since kids. No one really wants to defend. It’s about accuracy and winning games. We can’t go running up blind alleys. We have to execute what we need to.”

The team can still impact the championship by ruining France’s Grand Slam tilt, just as France wrecked theirs last year.

Wales went to Paris fully loaded for the Grand Slam and lost 32-30 to a Brice Dulin injury-time try.

France also won in Cardiff for the first time in a decade on its last visit in 2020. France is the only Six Nations team Pivac’s Wales has yet to conquer. The problem with this is, France has improved each year while Wales is in transition after a spate of injuries to senior, first-choice players.

“They’ve been two of the most enjoyable matches I’ve been involved in,” Pivac said. “Unfortunately, we’ve come out on the wrong side of the result in two tight games.

“We don’t have to think far back to the game going for the Grand Slam last year. The last-minute play robbed us of that and the disappointment is still in the minds.”

Wales’ buildup to Friday has been controversial. Prop Tomas Francis was apparently concussed against England, and player welfare advocates said it would be “a grave mistake” if he faced France. Wales is starting Francis, saying he passed every test and was cleared by an independent concussion specialist. But that’s only sharpened the spotlight on Francis in the game.

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France was hit by the coronavirus and had to isolate winger Damian Penaud and reserve lock Romain Taofifenua. Both are mainstays. Gabin Villiere, scorer of a hat trick against Italy, is over the broken nose which kept him from the Scotland game to make a timely reappearance.

Coach Fabien Galthie has told his players to embrace the Welsh Friday night experience.

“When you arrive at the stadium and get off the bus, you can hear a Welsh chorus all the way up the stairs into the dressing room. It grips you, gives you goosebumps,” Galthie said. “When the players take the field they stay four minutes in the dark, seeking their opponents out. It’s a show, it’s a sublime part of rugby, in a country with few inhabitants but which invents fantastic rugby players.”

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Lineups:

Wales: Liam Williams, Alex Cuthbert, Owen Watkin, Jonathan Davies, Josh Adams, Dan Biggar (captain), Tomos Williams; Taulupe Faletau, Josh Navidi, Seb Davies, Adam Beard, Will Rowlands, Tomas Francis, Ryan Elias, Gareth Thomas. Reserves: Dewi Lake, Wyn Jones, Dillon Lewis, Ross Moriarty, Jac Morgan, Kieran Hardy, Gareth Anscombe, Louis Rees-Zammit.

France: Melvyn Jaminet, Yoram Moefana, Gael Fickou, Jonathan Danty, Gabin Villiere, Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont (captain); Gregory Alldritt, Anthony Jelonch, Francois Cros, Paul Willemse, Cameron Woki, Uini Atonio, Julien Marchand, Cyril Baille. Reserves: Peato Mauvaka, Jean-Baptiste Gros, Mohamed Haouas, Thibaud Flament, Dylan Cretin, Maxime Lucu, Thomas Ramos, Matthis Lebel.

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