Matthew Rees believes France will attempt to “bully” and “irritate” Wales as they attempt to claim the Grand Slam.
Even though France cannot win the championship they could still gatecrash Wales’ planned Millennium Stadium party. And history is also on Les Bleus’ side, having won five previous Six Nations Tests and lost only one – the last time Wales were crowned Grand Slam champions four years ago – in Cardiff.
“The pressure is on us, we are at home, and France will probably want to come here and spoil the party,” said hooker Rees, who wins his 50th cap today. We have to make sure we deliver on the day. The changes France have made up-front, they are definitely going to try to come here and bully us. That is one thing we have got to be mindful of. They have picked a front-five to try to irritate us and see how we respond to that. One team that tries to bully you is South Africa, but as far as I am concerned whenever we have played at home I don’t think there is any team that has come out on top.”
Victory for Wales would not only confirm them as European champions, it would also underline the consistency coach Warren Gatland is striving for five months after securing a World Cup semi-final place.
Seven of this weekend’s starting line-up are aged 24 or under, and Rees, who made his comeback from injury against Italy six days ago, is enthused by what they could achieve.
“You can’t underestimate how big the World Cup was for us as a nation, and after it we were always going to be favourites to win this Six Nations,” Rees said.
“In the past, we have always come in as underdogs, but I think this group of players have taken us to the next level.
“Our fitness has gone to another level, which has been great for us in terms of the way we want to play the game, because we are coming through strong at the end of games.
“We have got a lot of young boys in the team who are going to be around a lot longer than the senior guys. The biggest thing for me is we’ve come a long way in the last 18 months, and the important thing now is we don’t get carried away and keep on building.”
Meanwhile France coach Philippe Saint-Andre claims Wales are “big favourites” to land the Grand Slam today.
“Wales have been playing super rugby since the World Cup,” said Saint-Andre.
“They are very confident and the big favourites for the Grand Slam. I’ve been very disappointed with our last couple of games.”
WALES: L Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues); A Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues), J Davies (Scarlets), J Roberts (Cardiff Blues), G North (Scarlets); R Priestland (Scarlets), M Phillips (Bayonne); G Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), M Rees (Scarlets), A Jones (Ospreys), A-W Jones (Ospreys), I Evans (Ospreys), D Lydiate (Newport Gwent Dragons), S Warburton (Cardiff Blues, capt), T Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons).
Replacements: K Owens (Scarlets), P James (Ospreys), L Charteris (Newport Gwent Dragons), R Jones (Ospreys), L Williams (Cardiff Blues), J Hook (Perpignan), S Williams (Scarlets).
FRANCE: C Poitrenaud (Toulouse); W Fofana (Clermont Auvergne), A Rougerie (Clermont Auvergne), F Fritz (Toulouse), A Palisson (Toulon); L Beauxis (Stade Francais), D Yachvili (Biarritz); J-B Poux (Toulouse), W Servat (Toulouse), D Attoub (Stade Francais), P Pape (Stade Francais), Y Maestri (Toulouse), T Dusautoir (Toulouse, capt), J Bonnaire (Clermont Auvergne), I Harinordoquy (Biarritz).
Replacements: D Szarzewski (Stade Francais), V Debaty (Clermont Auvergne), J Pierre (Clermont Auvergne), L Picamoles (Toulouse), M Parra (Clermont), F Trinh-Duc (Montpellier), J-M Buttin (Clermont Auvergne).
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved