After defeating Scotland 18-9 at Murrayfield in the opening round and claiming a 33-10 win in a highly impressive display against 2009 Grand Slam winners Ireland, Marc Lievremont’s troops are favourites for the title.
Lievremont has been forced into two changes for the trip to Cardiff, injury forcing prolific wing Vincent Clerc and indomitable flanker Fulgence Ouedraogo out of the Millennium Stadium encounter, only the second Friday night fixture in Six Nations history.
Bayonne’s Benjamin Fall replaces Clerc, while experienced Clermont Auvergne forward Julien Bonnaire takes over from Ouedraogo in the back row alongside captain Thierry Dusautoir and number eight Imanol Harinordoquy.
Fall, playing in his third Winger Test, who turns 21 next month, will be lining up outside the formidable centre pairing of Mathieu Bastareaud, the star of the tournament so far, and Yannick Jauzion.
Lievremont has faith in his replacements but is under no illusions as to the size of the task that faces his side.
“Fall is not as experienced as Clerc but we hope the change will not affect the team,” said the France coach.
“The return of Bonnaire is logical because he was with us as a playing replacement against Scotland and Ireland and will bring us more options at the line-out.”
France are determined to seal a third successive win. Lievremont added: “We’ll travel to Cardiff with a lot of respect for the Welsh but we want to capitalise on our first two wins.”
As well as the two enforced changes in the starting XV, there is also set to be a switch on the bench, with injured Stade Francais prop Sylvain Marconnet replaced by Toulouse’s Jean-Baptiste Poux.
France won the first Six Nations Friday night fixture in Paris last year, beating Wales 21-16, but they were defeated 29-12 on their last trip to Cardiff two years ago.
Meanwhile, Lions scrum-half Mike Phillips has won a startling recall to Wales duty – after only 40 minutes of rugby in four months. Phillips will be on the bench.
The 27-year-old only began his comeback from a serious ankle injury during Ospreys’ narrow Magners League victory over Connacht yesterday. But Wales coach Warren Gatland has wasted no time summoning Phillips into the Test arena, naming him as back-up for Cardiff Blues number nine Richie Rees.
Rees replaces Cardiff Blues colleague Gareth Cooper in one of four changes and a positional switch following Wales’ dramatic 31-24 success against Scotland nine days ago.
Elsewhere, hooker Huw Bennett takes over from the injured Gareth Williams to complete an entire Ospreys front row, and there is an all-Blues second-row partnership of Bradley Davies and Deiniol Jones, with Jonathan Thomas switching from lock to flanker.
Thomas fills the back-row vacancy created by Andy Powell’s axing from the Wales squad after he was charged with drink-driving last week. Davies, currently mourning the death of his mother Cheryl, joins Rees and Jones in making a first Six Nations start.
Flanker Martyn Williams, meanwhile, moves level with Colin Charvis as Wales’ most-capped forward as he prepares to make his 94th Test match appearance. But Wales have it all to do, with France on course for a Grand Slam this season and having won on four of their five previous Six Nations visits to the Millennium Stadium.
Andy Robinson yesterday urged his Scotland players to “bottle” the attitude they took into their dramatic RBS 6 Nations defeat by Wales and use it when they face Italy in Rome on Saturday.
Scotland produced arguably their best performance for a number of years for 70 minutes at the Millennium Stadium nine days ago before collapsing in the final 10.
Head coach Robinson wants to see no repeat of the mistakes which led to the last-gasp loss when his side travel to the Stadio Flamini this weekend.
There were no surprises when Robinson announced his starting line-up. Of the four changes made, three were enforced by the tournament-ending injuries suffered in Cardiff by back-three stars Chris Paterson, Thom Evans and Rory Lamont.
The trio were replaced by Hugo Southwell, Simon Danielli and Max Evans, with the latter returning at centre as Sean Lamont moved back to the wing. The other change to the XV saw Allan Jacobsen recalled at prop in place of Alasdair Dickinson.