The game to bring down the final curtain on the Six Nations should be a cracker, but with England v Ireland at Twickenham, St Patrick’s day and the prospect of 5+ hours in a pub before kick off – will anyone still be sober enough to watch by then? Well, we at Rugby4Cast will hopefully still be compos mentis and able to keep a (semi) analytical eye on the proceedings, have no fear.
France, coming off the back of an impressive victory against England, have left us with the age old question – which French team is going to be turning up at Cardiff tomorrow? Our answer is that it shouldn’t matter. With Wales’s impressive home form, last losing to France at home 8 years ago, we predict that the Welsh should be strong enough to see off the French, with the computer giving them a 23 – 16 victory.
This explains our predictions for the final standings in the Six Nations which gives Wales a 65% chance of coming 2nd in the championship with France 44% on to take 5th.
Wales and France would both be relatively satisfied with their campaigns thus far, with the ability to finish as high as 2nd or as low as 5th, Saturday’s game has the ability, perhaps unfairly, to shape perceptions for the rest of the year, although it should really highlight how open a tournament the Six Nations is. This possibly explains Wales’s somewhat more conservative team selection with proven performers brought back in; whereas France will be hoping they can sufficiently replace Captain Fantastic Guilhem Guirado who has made 69 tackles so far this championship.
Wales have played against France 95 times since 1908 and are still just about on top, with Wales winning 48 times, France winning 44 times and with three matches drawn. Both teams have gone through periods of dominance, Wales winning 18 of the first 19 matches, but in more recent times France have come out ahead winning 28 of the most recent 40.
In Cardiff, French dominance over the Welsh has diminished since 2008, with Wales winning their 4 of the last 5 games at home against France.
Rankings wise France have usually been higher ranked than Wales throughout history, but since 2014 there has been a reversal in fortunes. There is not much up for grabs over the game tomorrow with Wales and France guaranteed to finish 7th and 8th respectively, but there would be a significant points shift.
A campaign which started under the radar for Wales is finishing there or thereabouts again, despite being favourites to finish second. If they beat France tomorrow they would have successfully won all their home games and lost all their away games , fairly traditional for the Six Nations (and all predicted by our computer). The only unexpected result thus far for Wales is the way they blew a highly rated Scotland team away in Cardiff; unfortunately for Wales that high water mark has not really been matched since.
Winning at home against France would cap off what most would consider a successful Six Nations. Although two losses has meant a title challenge has not materialised, Wales would take encouragement having been within a score of both England and Ireland when the clock has ticked red. Away from home that is not to be sniffed at.
Wales have shown an ability to score with limited possession and territory whilst encouraging has also led to prolonged periods of pressure against the better teams. Overall though Wales will be happy to have developed strength in depth in key positions with one eye on the World Cup in 2019.
France, unfairly we feel, have had to deal with a lot of negativity around their results. Losing to a last minute Irish drop-goal and away in Edinburgh are perfectly reasonable results given the strength of the Six Nations nowadays. To then beat a wounded England team in front of a delirious Stade de France was a result not seen coming by many, us included, and showed brutal physicality and determination throughout the 80 minutes.
Although France coming into that game had lost eight of their last nine matches, with their last win before Italy coming against Wales (again in the last game of the 2017 Six Nations), they tend to be able stay in games and so will look to continue to threaten come the final quarter in Cardiff. If Wales fail to move around their monster pack and, of course, their new captain in Mathieu Bastareaud might find themselves bludgeoned backwards – as England found to their cost.
France are still up against it though and have been at the end of some significant losses in Cardiff, (losing by over 20 points in 2014), so we still feel a Wales win looks far more likely. It will undoubtedly be a good game though, so well worth a watch if you can fit it in.
However, if you’ve got to the end of this article it probably means you have a fighting chance of getting to the end of the game tomorrow!
Bon chance, and enjoy the weekend.