RWC: Match preview: Wales – France

SEMI-FINAL 1 – WALES vs FRANCE
Eden Park, Auckland, Saturday 15th Oct 9pm (NZT)
Head-to-head: Played 88, Wales 43 France 42, Drawn 3
Last meeting: France 28 beat Wlaes 9 at Stade de France, Paris, 2011
Last meeting at a World Cup: First meeting

Team news: France coach Marc Lièvremont has named an unchanged starting line-up for the teams biggest game in four years. Lièvremont coaching ability was brought into question by the French media when he named Morgan Parra at fly-half, but the decision to shift the half-back to the playmaker role finally paid off in the victory over England in their quarter-final. Wales coach Warren Gatland has been able to name 14 members of the side which won their quarter-final last Saturday. The one exception is the loss of fly-half Rhys Priestland through the shoulder injury he suffered in the match against Ireland. Priestland has been a revelation for the Welsh at this World Cup and is a big loss. James Hook will wear the number ten jersey with the experienced Stephen Jones coming on to the bench.

Form: The French have been predictably unpredictable so far, losing to both New Zealand and Tonga before putting in a great performance against England to win their way to a semi-final. The forward pack has been in fine form, the line-out in particular was huge against England and will play a big part in this contest. Wales have been solid throughout, the only loss coming against South Africa in their opening match. Having flown under the radar for most of the cup, the Welsh have caught many by surprise after such a poor build-up to the tournament. There has been stunning performances all over the park, but the form of Jamie Roberts has been a stand out. His ability to break the line creates a great platform for his back-line colleagues to capitalise on.

Prediction: Its hard to say if the French have really turned their form around or simply pulled one out of the hat against England. Wales form on the other-hand has been outstanding and it was no surprise that they prevailed over an Irish team that couldn’t compete with the Welsh potent back-line and fitness levels. Those fitness levels will get a good work-out here as France will test their kick chase game. You can never count out a team that has made the semi-finals, but there is a good chance the French will return to the form that saw them lose two matches in the pool stage. France have the wood on the Welsh and will try to use all their experience and guile to get one over their Six Nations rivals. Wales look like the fairytale side of this World Cup and will make it to the final, but its going to be a close one.
Wales by 3

Teams:
Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Shane Williams, 10 James Hook, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (capt), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun-Wyn Jones, 4 Luke Charteris, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Huw Bennett, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Replacements: 16 Lloyd Burns, 17 Paul James, 18 Bradley Davies, 19 Ryan Jones, 20 Lloyd Williams, 21 Stephen Jones, 22 Scott Williams.

France: 15 Maxime Médard, 14 Vincent Clerc, 13 Aurélien Rougerie, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 Alexis Palisson, 10 Morgan Parra, 9 Dimitri Yachvili, 8 Imanol Harinordoquy, 7 Julien Bonnaire, 6 Thierry Dusautoir (capt), 5 Lionel Nallet, 4 Pascal Papé, 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 William Servat, 1 Jean-Baptiste Poux.
Replacements: 16 Dimitri Szarzewski, 17 Fabien Barcella, 18 Julien Pierre, 19 Louis Picamoles, 20 Francois Trinh-Duc, 21 David Marty, 22 Cedric Heymans.

By Alex Barlow-Smith