Wales vs. France: Score and Lessons Learned from Six Nations Clash
If Wales' chances of a third successive Six Nations title looked slim prior to Friday evening's encounter at the Millennium Stadium, the odds will have been dramatically boosted by what unfolded in Cardiff.
Compared to the side that lost 26-3 in Dublin a fortnight ago, Wales were rampant against France, fully deserving of the 27-6 scoreline that ran in their favour.
With that transformation under their belts, the Welsh can now move ahead with their tournament and be hopeful of further improvement as the tournament progresses.
Here are several key lessons learned from their Week 3 outing.
1. Sam Warburton Proving That Captaincy Doubts Are Misplaced
While it was Gethin Jenkins who may have been awarded the official Man of the Match tag, Sam Warburton put in a display worthy of such credentials himself against the French.
And it's in matches such as these that a team needs its captain more than ever, with Les Bleus posing a stiff threat coming into the Millennium Stadium matchup.
Warburton was as energetic as ever in his performance, his stamina once again coming to the fore as he made his presence felt all over the park and the scoring of a crucial try simply the icing on the cake of a marvellous day's work.
There have been whispers of late that the centrally contracted flanker shouldn't be the man leading Wales, but if there was ever a time to prove one's right to the captaincy, Warburton chose a good one.
2. Philippe Saint-Andre Should Be Worried About Half-Back Hijinx
It's been well-chronicled that the half-back combination of Jules Plisson and Jean-Marc Doussain is Philippe Saint-Andre's 10th in the space of two years.
However, based on the first two weeks of this Six Nations, the France head coach may have been hopeful that the uncertainty over his scrum-half/fly-half fluidity was over, and a new, long-term dynamic duo was emerging.
Against Wales, Doussian and Plisson showed that is not likely to be the case, with not much to speak for in terms of synchronisation and the former pulled off in favour of Maxime Machenaud at halftime.
In truth, each player has the tendency to show its brighter sparks from time to time, but it's the fact that there's not even seen together that's so troubling.
3. Jake Ball Eases the Burden of Alun-Wyn Jones' Absence
Just hours prior to kickoff, Welsh heads will have dropped upon hearing the news that Alun-Wyn Jones would miss the France fixture due to a foot infection.
Relative unknown Jake Ball would step into the second row in Jones' place, and what followed was a revelation that will have left many a mouth agape.
Ball was terrific, doing the simple things right and not overcomplicating his game as so many apprehensive up-and-comers do.
As a result, what was produced was a confident outing with seven tackles, some fine contribution at the line-out and generally a display that didn't look out of place at the international level.
4. Gael Fickou Must Start Against Scotland
Wales may have been concerned about just how George North would fare at outside centre against one of Europe's most in-form midfield partnerships and playing in a position the Northampton Saint isn't entirely familiar with.
However, Mathieu Bastareaud was left embarrassed by the petty contributions made in the Welsh capital. While his mass was thrown about from time to time, a distinct lack of technical ability inhibited France as a result.
When Toulouse's Gael Fickou came on in the 70th minute, there was a more noticeable spark among Saint-Andre's back ranks, and how damning it is that in just 10 minutes, he had managed to match the tally of clean breaks that it had taken Bastareaud 70 minutes to build up.
Bastareaud's lack of malleability led to a one-trick show that just wasn't getting better results the more he tried to use it against the Welsh, and Fickou is more than deserving of his own shot in the starting XV.
5. Rhys Webb Capable of Challenging Mike Phillips for Top Spot
Mike Phillips' drop to the bench was a controversial decision this week and one that could have easily blown up in Warren Gatland's face against tricky opposition.
However, it paid off to perfection as Rhys Webb promoted precisely the kind of formatted, tactical approach that Wales needed following their strategic disassembling at the hands of Ireland.
Webb did enough to, at the very least, make himself a candidate to remain in the starting XV for the trip to Twickenham in a fortnight's time, with his quick ball turnover and astute defensive showing undoubtedly enamouring him further with the Welsh coaching staff.
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