Wales Aiming To Stretch Streak In France Six Nations Opener

Jan 31 - by AFP for SportPesa News

Gatland's team have racked up nine victories on the trot. A win on Friday would take them to 10, a feat previously achieved when former All Blacks coach Graham Henry was in charge

In this file photo taken on November 24, 2018 Wales' wing Josh Adams (L) is tackled by South Africa's full-back Willie le Roux during the autumn international rugby union test match between Wales and South Africa at the Principality stadium in Cardiff, south Wales. Selected on the wing for Wales' match against France, the 23-year-old can also play at full-back. The Worcester star demonstrated his pace and fearlessness during some robust exchanges against Australia in November. PHOTO/AFP

  • Wales will bid to equal their longest winning sequence since 1999 when they take on France in Friday's opening game of the Six Nations, Warren Gatland's last campaign as Welsh coach
  • With a favourable fixture list that sees them host England and defending Grand Slam champions Ireland, an experienced Wales side is expected to mount a serious challenge for a third title under Gatland
  • Gatland has brought in Tomos Williams to start at scrum-half, with Kiwi-born Cardiff team-mate Gareth Anscombe at 10, Dan Biggar named on the bench

PARIS, France- Wales will bid to equal their longest winning sequence since 1999 when they take on France in Friday's opening game of the Six Nations, Warren Gatland's last campaign as Welsh coach.

With a favourable fixture list that sees them host England and defending Grand Slam champions Ireland, an experienced Wales side is expected to mount a serious challenge for a third title under Gatland, having won the Grand Slam in 2008 -- his first year in charge -- and 2012.

Gatland's team have racked up nine victories on the trot. A win on Friday would take them to 10, a feat previously achieved when former All Blacks coach Graham Henry was in charge. The all-time Wales winning run is 11 Tests, set between 1907 and 1910.

"It is a nice record to have of nine wins in a row but you want to create your own history as players," Wales' Kiwi centre Hadleigh Parkes said in his BBC column.

"Also you want to achieve things for the management because, for a lot of them this will be their last Six Nations campaign."

Gatland said he was "excited" by his final Six Nations campaign, although he will still lead Wales to the Rugby World Cup in Japan before handing over the reins to fellow New Zealander Wayne Pivac, currently coaching Scarlets.

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"It's a big year for us, so you've got to be up for that. And not just me, the other coaches as well," said Gatland, who took over Wales following their disastrous showing in the 2007 World Cup and has led them to third in the World Rugby rankings behind New Zealand and Ireland.

"We are all pretty conscious of this being our last Six Nations and wanting to do well."

Gatland has brought in Tomos Williams to start at scrum-half, with Kiwi-born Cardiff team-mate Gareth Anscombe at 10, Dan Biggar named on the bench.

Two other changes from the side that beat South Africa in November see Cardiff flanker Josh Navidi return after missing the whole of the autumn series because of injury, while Scarlets prop Rob Evans replaces Nicky Smith.

Gatland, whose side will be captained once more by veteran second-row Alun Wyn Jones, added: "We have a great deal of experience across the team and on the bench, and we want to kick things off well on Friday."

- Willemse in blue -

Jones will be up against a South African man mountain come Friday after France coach Jacques Brunel named Montpellier's Paul Willemse at lock.

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Willemse received a French passport in November after arriving in France in 2014 and will become the 11th South African-born player to turn out for Les Bleus.

"Should we have given him more time to acclimatise?" asked Brunel, who oversaw a dismal 2018 in which France won only three of their 11 games, including a first-ever loss to Fiji.

"It seemed obvious to us that it would be better that he makes his debut in France in front of a crowd which, we hope, will push him, help him."

Also making his debut against the Welsh and facing a baptism of fire in midfield will be Romain Ntamack, the 19-year-old son of emblematic ex-France back Emile.

Ntamack is preferred to vice-captain and defensive lynchpin Mathieu Bastareaud, who doesn't even make the replacements' bench.

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The selection of Ntamack, whose explosiveness has helped propel Toulouse to number one spot in the Top 14, hints at a desire for a more dynamic gameplan. And on paper, the side oozes appeal.

"Yes, we have some players with a lot of speed in the backs and we'll try to use them as much as possible," Brunel acknowledged.

The question is whether the French side, with Morgan Parra bossing things from scrum-half, will cope with Wales' proven, teak-tough rush defence.