Wales favour momentum over records in clash with France

Alun Wyn Jones says that Wales are not “hanging our hats” on records heading into tonight’s Guinness Six Nations opener against France.

Alun Wyn Jones, in action against France in last years Six Nations, is determined to make a winning start in this years tournament. Picture: Getty.
Alun Wyn Jones, in action against France in last years Six Nations, is determined to make a winning start in this years tournament. Picture: Getty.

But Wales captain Jones also acknowledges the importance of momentum as his team look to extend an unbeaten record that stretches back to last 
season’s tournament.

Victory at Stade de France would make it ten wins on the bounce for Wales and equal a longest undefeated sequence since 1999.

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Wales have also toppled France six times from the last seven attempts, including two wins out of the last three Paris meetings.

If they see off France, followed by Italy in Rome on 
Saturday week, then Wales would match their record 11-match run set more than 100 years ago.

“Momentum is massive,” Jones said. “You want to get out of the blocks and get your foot in the door.

“We are not really focusing on records. Our focus is performance, and with good performances you usually get results.

“We are not going to focus on what could be. We know what we have to do.

“We are not hanging our hats on records. We will be reminded of the nine wins, but it’s a massive task on Friday.

“It’s probably the biggest pack they [France] could have picked. We are fully aware of the strength they have and the way they are likely to play with a pack that drive a lot, and with ball-players behind.”

How Wales fare against a huge French pack – which has a combined weight of just over 150 stones and is one of the 
biggest fielded in Six Nations history – will be pivotal to the contest.

Wales head coach Warren Gatland added: “The way we’ve tended to play against France is keep the ball on the park and not be afraid to kick long and try to find a bit of grass.

“I think they will kick a lot of ball out to try to slow the game down and play a lot off [Morgan] Parra at nine.

“There is no doubt they will have a big go at our scrum and try to maul us off the park. They were pretty effective in the autumn in that area.

“We’ve got to be on our mettle, and – from a defensive point of view – it’s paramount our line-speed and collisions are good. We’ve been working on that and talking about stopping their forward momentum which they can create from their pack.”

A key part of Wales’ forward effort will be hooker Ken Owens, who sets a new cap record for his country in that position when he makes his 61st appearance tonight.

“He is a great bloke to have in the side,” Gatland said. “He is a great team man and incredibly well respected and well liked by the coaches and the staff.

“He puts his body on the line. He’s playing some great rugby at the moment, and it will be great for him to have a good year.”

France boss Jacques Brunel believes Test match rookie Romain Ntamack is “a strong pick” against Wales.

Brunel has adopted a bold approach with his midfield selections, partnering 19-year-old Ntamack with richly-
talented Clermont Auvergne centre Wesley Fofana.

Ntamack’s debut comes 25 years after his father Emile first played for Les Bleus – also against Wales – and much is expected of the Toulouse 
player.

But, while Ntamack can look forward to his big chance, France’s defensive linchpin Mathieu Bastareaud – a regular during Brunel’s reign – has been omitted and not even made the matchday squad.

“Romain Ntamack is a strong pick,” head coach Brunel said. “Of course, he is a lad whose qualities we all know. He has shown since the start of the season that he is capable of adapting to the levels he has played at.

“Bastareaud is an important player in the squad. He has definitely not been thrown out.”