Robin McBryde says Wales’ impressive recent record against France should “stay in the past” ahead of tonight’s Six Nations showdown in Cardiff.
Wales have reeled off four successive victories against their title rivals, and only conceded one try in the past five Tests between the countries.
Such statistics have contributed to Wales’ status as firm favourites under a closed Principality Stadium roof tonight, when victory would take them top of the table before unbeaten England host Ireland tomorrow.
“You can never take a French team too lightly, especially with an experienced coach like Guy Noves in charge and the success he has had with Toulouse over the years, especially in the European Cup,” Wales assistant coach McBryde said.
“If you create an identity in your team and everybody buys into that team, and then you match that ambition with the way you train and play, you are going to be a handful for any team.
“They are two [wins] out of two, so we can’t take this challenge too lightly. The records of the past should stay in the past. We are going to have to step up in our defence and attack. If we have got any ambition to get anything out of this championship, we have got to win.”
France have not beaten Wales in Cardiff since 2010 – that game was also on a Friday night – and while they are undefeated after two games of this season’s Six Nations, home wins against Italy and Ireland were achieved by a combined margin of just three points.
McBryde added: “It [French flair] is part of the French identity with rugby, along with their tighter game. They have got a strong scrum, and you can hear the crowd getting behind their pack when the scrum is being as competitive as it can be, or they see a rolling maul gathering a head of steam. And it’s getting the balance of that style of play with the swinging of the hips and the off-loading game they’ve got. They have potent individuals behind the scrum – big threats with ball in hand – and the challenge for any team is to create the space on the field and to take advantage of the opposition.
“There isn’t that much space to be found in modern-day rugby with defences being as organised as they can be.”
Any Welsh victory foundations will be built on the efforts of their forwards, who have excelled so far in the tournament, no-one more so than No 8 Taulupe Faletau. The 54 times-capped Newport Gwent Dragons forward made 33 tackles – and missed none – in the games against Ireland and Scotland earlier this month, and McBryde said: “He is one of the best number eights in world rugby. He has grown into an individual who is the first name on the team-sheet, and commands his position.
“The aspect of his tight game has improved at lineout time – he steals lineouts and claims his own – he is great under the high ball, his footwork into the contact area and running lines are great. He is on top of his game. He’s the constant because he is such a threat with ball in hand and he’s very tight in defence. He keeps getting better and better, and still has the ambition to improve. He has high standards.”
For Faletau to perform, though, he will need a strong scrummaging base to work from, with tonight’s clash providing another examination for young Scarlets props Rob Evans and Samson Lee following their impressive scrummaging contributions against Ireland and Scotland.
“The scrum has gone well in the first two games, and we know we have the ability to bring [121 times-capped] Gethin Jenkins on with his vast experience,” McBryde added.
“Gethin is still hungry and wants to start, and to have that competition is good. But being selected for the first three matches of the Six Nations will give Rob Evans a lot of confidence. We are showing confidence in him as coaches – we think he can build and improve – and he hasn’t let us down. It will be a big step up against [Rabah] Slimani, who is a better tighthead prop than France’s others.”