Experience and continuity the key in Wales’ stranglehold over French

Ken Owens believes that experience is a key factor behind Wales’ successful big-game mentality.

Wales hooker Ken Owens is happy that everybody is pretty comfortable with their role in the squad, both on and off the field. Picture: PA
Wales hooker Ken Owens is happy that everybody is pretty comfortable with their role in the squad, both on and off the field. Picture: PA

The Six Nations champions tackle World Cup quarter-final opponents France in Oita on Sunday, their third successive last-eight appearance under head coach Warren Gatland, while they have beaten France in seven of the last eight 
meetings.

If they reach the semi-finals, an appointment with South Africa could loom, and they have lost five of six against Wales since 2014.

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Throw in a 14-game unbeaten run between March 2018 and this summer, that included defeating Australia, winning two games in Argentina and toppling Ireland to claim a Six Nations Grand Slam, and Wales regularly get it right in high-stakes matches.

“I think it is the confidence we have in each other,” Wales hooker Owens said. “Everybody is pretty comfortable with their role in the squad, both on and off the field.

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“We have had a good continuity in the squad over the last two years, which helps galvanise us.

“We know exactly what we are trying to achieve and where we are trying to get to. To be fair, the management prepare us well, and there is no stone left unturned.

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“There is experience right across the squad now in big games. Liam (Wales full-back Williams) has been successful in England, a lot of players have played in big games for their clubs, and because we have had a lot of continuity in selection across the squad, the more you play in the big games the more you get used to them, the build-up and what is expected and how to deliver.”

Gatland will name his team today, with centre Jonathan Davies, wing George North and stand-off Dan Biggar all likely to feature after recovering from recent knocks.

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Wales will start as favourites, especially given recent history between the countries.

“We take confidence, but the last eight games we have played against them there has only been a score or so in it,” Owens added. “They have been tough matches, as they always are.

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“We will take confidence from what we have achieved over the last two years and where we are as a squad, but there is confidence – it’s not arrogance – as we know how good a team the French are, as they have proved against us in the past.

“It’s the World Cup quarter-final. As a player, you only get the chance to play in it once every four years, and that’s only if you are extremely lucky and extremely well-prepared.

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“For us, it’s another game – granted, a massive game – but we have worked really hard for this and we are just looking forward to the opportunity of playing in a World Cup quarter-final against a tough side like France.

“For us, it is about thinking about ourselves and making sure we put in an 80-minute performance, because we haven’t done that yet in this tournament.

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“I think the French will be looking to put in an 80-minute performance themselves, and we are looking to do that as well because we know how dangerous the French can be.”