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Tip : Sat 11 May : Latin Magic - place
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|Welsh Loss is French Gain|
|Paul de Beyer, 11/10/2011|
Wales will be without their impressive flyhalf Rhys Priestland for the Saturday’s Rugby World Cup semi-final against France.
The Welsh star took a nasty knock during the quarterfinal against Ireland and had to be substituted for James Hook during the second half. Priestland has been in terrific form, keeping the more experienced Hook and Stephen Jones out of the starting line-up. Hook finds himself promoted to the starting fifteen ahead of Jones, who slots in on the bench.
Hook, who has played much of his rugby at fullback and inside centre, is a similar player to Priestland and will hopefully be able to marshal the backline in the same way as his predecessor. Wales has played an attractive, high-tempo brand of rugby all tournament long, and would suffer from a change in tactics now. While the match is likely to be a tight affair, straying from the formula that has brought them such success would be tantamount to suicide.
In the blue corner, France has picked the same side that defied the odds in the quarterfinal against England, and this rare continuity should help them settle early in the match. The French were full value for their win over the Poms but will need to bring a sharper attacking edge if they are to trouble the Welsh. Wales boasts one of the best defences in the tournament, and their rush tactics will give the French backs less time to manoeuvre.
The rush defence does have its flaws, and if Les Bleus can break through the first line of defence they could well have the Welsh scrambling. It is this sort of chaotic situation that the French thrive on, and their incisive, attack-minded backline could make the Dragons pay dearly. Wales are no slouches in the attack department, with Jamie Roberts probably the best inside centre at the World Cup. With the loss of Priestland, Roberts will need to combine with new pivot Hook and form a similar understanding if the Welsh attack is to flourish. Out wide both sides boast formidable attacking prowess, and even the smallest lapse could result in a five-pointer.
Like all knock-out matches the hard work needs to be done upfront. The Welsh pack put on a master-class against the powerful Irish forwards but will be up against arguably the strongest scrummaging side in the world. France dominated the scrums for much of their quarterfinal, disrupting the English with a string of penalties in the first half. They seemed to fall away towards the end of the match and will need to put in a complete 80 minute performance against an extremely fit and disciplined Welsh side.
This semi-final should offer up an entertaining fare, with both sides known for their running approach. Wales have struggled against the French in recent seasons but a once-off match is a different story altogether. It’s said defences win World Cups and this match should be a stern test of both teams mental and physical discipline.
15 Maxime Medard, 14 Vincent Clerc, 13 Aurelien Rougerie, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 Alexis Palisson, 10 Morgan Parra, 9 Dimitri Yachvili, 8 Imanol Harinordoquy, 7 Julien Bonnaire, 6 Thierry Dusautoir (c), 5 Lionel Nallet, 4 Pascal Pape, 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 William Servat, 1 Jean-Baptiste Poux.
Subs: 16 Dimitri Szarzewski, 17 Fabien Barcella, 18 Julien Pierre, 19 Louis Picamoles, 20 Francois Trinh-Duc, 21 David Marty, 22 Cedric Heymans
15. Leigh Halfpenny, 14. George North, 13. Jonathan Davies, 12. Jamie Roberts, 11. Shane Williams, 10. James Hook, 9. Mike Phillips, 8. Toby Faletau, 7. Sam Warburton (c), 6. Danny Lydiate, 5. Alun Wyn Jones, 4. Luke Charteris, 3. Adam Jones, 2. Huw Bennett, 1. Gethin Jenkins.