By Tadhg Peavoy
Two wounded beasts come into a must win game in Paris.
Both sides lost their hopes of a 2013 Grand Slam in their opening encounters last week and will be desperate to secure two points this weekend.
France were awful last weekend against Italy in Rome. The talk prior to the game was of a France side that had shrugged off their indiscipline and erratic nature, and led by the notoriously erratic fly-half Frédéric Michalak, would deliver English consistency this term, starting with a routine win on Italian soil.
They displayed none of that. It was an arrogant, lazy and careless performance from Philippe Saint-André’s team.
There was no leadership in the side as they conceded set pieces and missed tackles at will against - in truth - a side far poorer than them man-for-man.
We won’t see France play that badly again this week as a performance as dispirited as that would not be acceptable to the French rugby public. Expect them to lift their game considerably.
The very fact that Saint-André has picked virtually the same team indicates his faith in the side and a desire not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
The only changes are Mathieu Bastareaud in for Florian Fritz in the centre, and Jocelino Suta taking over from injured captain Pascal Papé in the second row.
Yes, France were poor last week, but the majestic performances over the previous few months were not a flash in the pan.
The quality remains in this side all over the pitch, and I feel it will come to the fore against Wales.
The Principality are having a torrid time under interim coach Rob Howley and the country’s run of defeats now stands at a staggering eight-in-a-row.
Going to France is never easy, but with a side shockingly low on confidence, and missing their first choice second rows, one has to imagine they will struggle.
For fifty minutes against Ireland the Welsh were totally devoid of any flair or ideas and were made to look like wooden spoon contenders. Admittedly they began to sing in the second half as they put together some traditional Welsh attack play, sprinkled liberally with offloads at pace.
The argument can be made that Ireland had won the game and had switched back down to first gear at that stage. I think there is plenty of substance to this theory.
Without Rhys Priestland Wales have no natural leader at ten and it showed as Dan Biggar couldn't correctly dictate the flow of the game outside the pack. While in the pack, the lack of two first choice second rows made their scrum completely devoid of threat.
They won’t be as bad this week, but they will struggle to match France.
Like their opponents, their quality has not gone away, but without Priestland at ten, they are likely to struggle to bring their centre pairing of Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies into the game.
Davies looks very short of form at present and he will be hugely tested by Bastareaud at second centre. The giant centre has been drafted into the side in place of Fritz and I fully expect him to capitalise on his selection by doing a number on Davies.
If that happens, Wales will be in trouble, as the centre will create all sorts of space for the France back three and back rowers to take the ball at pace running into Welsh territory.
It looks bleak for Wales on paper, they may lift their game sufficiently, however, it is just so hard to see France maintaining their poor level of performance from last week to the extent that they will not do away with Wales.
France v Wales, RBS 6 Nations, Stade de France, Saturday 9 February, kick-off 17:00:
Verdict: France to win by ten.
France XV: Huget, Fofana, Mermoz, Bastareaud, Fall, Michalak, Machenaud, Forestier, Szarzewski, Mas, Suta, Maestri, Ouedraogo, Dusautoir (captain), Picamoles.
Replacements: Kayser, Debaty, Ducalon, Taofifenua, Chouly, Parra, Trinh-Duc, Fritz.
Wales XV: Halfpenny, Cuthbert, Davies, Roberts, North, Biggar, Phillips, Jenkins, Hibbard, A Jones, Coombs, Evans, R Jones (captain), Tipuric, Faletau.
Replacements: Owens, James, Mitchell, Reed, Shingler, L Williams, Hook, S Williams.