|Venue: Stade de France, Paris Date: Saturday, 18 March Kick-off:14:45 GMT|
|Protection: Reside on S4C, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru, the BBC Sport web site & app; stay textual content commentary on BBC Sport web site & app.|
So the traumatic and turbulent 2023 Six Nations journey for Welsh rugby lastly finishes in Paris.
It’s onerous to recall a extra miserable interval of Welsh rugby in latest occasions with travails on the pitch heightened by the continuous controversies off it.
Now Wales discover themselves in France, the vacation spot for the World Cup later this yr.
On the Stade de France on Saturday, Warren Gatland’s facet have the possibility to log off this competitors with one thing to construct on for when Wales return for the worldwide match in September.
The principle problem the guests face is that that hosts France are ranked quantity two on the earth and underlined their standing in a file 53-10 demolition of England at Twickenham final weekend.
All the pieces factors to a house win. Wales should show in any other case.
No Gatland bounce
It’s honest to say the Gatland homecoming has not lived as much as the romantic expectations of some after he determined to return for a second stint in cost, three years after he left.
It was maybe foolhardy to hope for, not to mention count on miracles after a lacklustre 2022 below Wayne Pivac that yielded in solely three wins in 12 video games which included dwelling defeats towards Italy and Georgia.
Gatland took over from his fellow New Zealander and an optimistic public had been hoping for a right away carry. What they’ve acquired is extra of the identical.
It started seven weeks in the past with a thumping dwelling loss to Eire earlier than a file defeat towards Scotland at Murrayfield seven days later.
Then got here the troubled build-up forward of the England recreation in Cardiff wherein the gamers threatened to not play due to a dispute over skilled participant contracts all through the Welsh recreation.
The Principality Stadium match went forward, however one other defeat ensued earlier than the one relative excessive of the marketing campaign to this point with a hard-fought win over Italy in Rome.
This stopped the opportunity of slipping exterior the world’s prime 10 for the primary time and averted a primary Six Nations clear sweep of defeats in 20 years.
Now the eye turns to upsetting the rampant French on dwelling soil.
Six Nations swansongs?
Following that first welcome Six Nations win on the seventh try, Wales primarily based themselves in Good as they aimed to keep away from the “goldfish bowl” of Welsh rugby.
The attractive French Riviera has now been swapped for the journey north to Paris, considered some of the charming cities on the earth.
For the time being strolling across the metropolis you may not recognise that description with luggage of garbage piling up on the streets.
The French protesters say they’re hanging for higher phrases and situations. One thing the Wales squad have additionally been battling for not too long ago.
One of many major sticking factors for the French public is the retirement age is seeking to be raised from 62 to 64.
Gatland has his personal dilemmas in the way to take care of a few of his senior servants, who’ve turn into Wales stalwarts during the last decade.
The Wales coach flagged the top of an period for Wales in Paris on Saturday by predicting “as much as eight” gamers will probably make their last Six Nations appearances.
Slightly below half of Gatland’s beginning line-up and replacements to deal with France are aged 30 or over. The beginning facet will boast greater than 1,000 caps when the sport kicks off at Stade de France.
Wales will look to make it a memorable day for quantity eight Taulupe Faletau, who turns into his nation’s eighth cap centurion.
Recalled trio Alun Wyn Jones, George North and Dan Biggar are already members of that unique 100 membership. Captain Ken Owens, scrum-half Rhys Webb, flanker Justin Tipuric and Leigh Halfpenny can even be contemplating what’s going to occur after the World Cup.
Whereas the bulk ought to have key roles to play on the World Cup later this yr, long-term planning after that can proceed, with or with out a number of the modern-day legends.
They deserve a becoming finale within the Six Nations match. Whether or not that can transpire stays to be seen.
Examine and distinction
Wales gamers and coaches have said no person expects them to win in France this weekend.
Gatland’s facet might need defeated Italy, however Les Bleus within the forecast Paris sunshine present a totally completely different proposition.
France have gained 4 video games in a row towards Wales, and are recent from that mesmeric show towards England.
A bonus-point victory for Fabien Galthie’s facet would hold their title hopes alive, though Eire stay odds-on favourites for the Grand Slam after they host England later within the day.
One look on the Six Nations desk reveals all, with France having scored 16 tries and 133 factors in 4 video games.
They’re joint-top of the attempt chart with leaders Eire, and have amassed extra factors than another staff.
Wales, in distinction, can mirror on simply seven tries and the match’s worst factors distinction.
Defensively, solely Italy have conceded extra tries than Gatland’s facet, so all the things factors to Les Bleus dominating.
Whereas the bookmakers are unlikely to present Wales the slightest of glances relating to an away win, the guests can maybe take coronary heart from latest performances within the French capital.
They’ve gained on three of their final 5 Six Nations visits to Paris and the losses had been by simply two factors on every event, suggesting it was not a venue they encountered an excessive amount of bother with throughout Gatland’s earlier stint.
So much has modified. Since Gatland left after the 2019 World Cup, France have gained a Six Nations Grand Slam and toppled New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and Eire in Paris.
Additionally they have the world’s greatest participant in captain and scrum-half Antoine Dupont and defence coach Shaun Edwards of their ranks.
Gatland and Edwards had been a dynamic double act that introduced success to Wasps and Wales for nearly 20 years. Now they discover themselves on opposing sides. One other important sub-plot.
Striving for choice consistency
Twenty-six choice adjustments and greater than 30 gamers utilized in 5 video games would counsel Gatland is struggling to choose his greatest facet.
One of many hallmarks of Gatland’s first spell in cost was his consistency and talent in selecting the correct staff and sometimes sticking together with his tried and trusted.
That was a part of his Midas contact. Gatland could have the summer time to attempt to show he has not misplaced that.
Solely Owens, wing Josh Adams and Adam Beard have began each recreation on this marketing campaign and centre, again row, entrance row and half-back combos have been chopped and adjusted,
The countdown to France 2023 continues, and new gamers have emerged in centres Mason Grady and Joe Hawkins, wing Rio Dyer, lock Dafydd Jenkins and flanker Jac Morgan.
Gatland will hope hooker Dewi Lake and lock Will Rowlands can get better and are available into consideration whereas he will certainly welcome centre Johnny Williams’ latest return for Scarlets.
Whether or not Wales have sufficient power in depth and ample high quality to problem the elite is questionable. Nevertheless it ought to be lifelike to count on improved showings throughout World Cup warm-up video games in August and the match.
That’s for 5 months time. With ongoing turmoil within the skilled recreation, many Welsh followers can’t look ahead to this Six Nations competitors to finish and don’t have the optimism wanting ahead to that World Cup match.
Perhaps, if Gatland’s Wales can produce a surprising finale in France to finish an underwhelming marketing campaign, that would begin to change. How Welsh rugby wants it.