PARIS – France host Wales in the opening game of this year’s Six Nations on Friday. AFP Sport picks out three head-to-heads to keep an eye out for:
Rookie v Veteran
South African-born Paul Willemse will make his Test debut at Stade de France where he will face 129-time international lock Alun-Wyn Jones.
Both measure more than 195m in height but are on opposite ends of the experience scale in international rugby.
Jones, 33, skippers Wales and led the Lions to their first series victory since 1997 in Australia six years ago when Willemse was about to start his third Currie Cup campaign with the Blue Bulls.
Since arriving in Grenoble in 2014 and then moving to Montpellier the season after, the powerful second-row has amassed more than 90 appearances in all competitions but it pales into comparison when put up against Jones’ experience who will join Ronan O’Gara in seventh place on 130 on the all-time caps list.
Another Test debutant comes in the shape of Les Bleus’ 19-year-old inside centre Romain Ntamack, who will have to deal with hard-running, Kiwi-born Hadleigh Parkes.
Ntamack, son of former international Emile, has been pivotal in guiding Toulouse to top spot in the Top 14 and the Champions Cup quarter-finals, scoring five tries, a matter of months after lifting the junior world championship on home soil.
Outside him will be Clermont’s Wesley Fofana who announced earlier this week he will be retiring at the end of the Rugby World Cup in November.
Fofana has a familiar face across from him in the Welsh number 13 shirt in Jonathan Davies.
The pair were partners for two years at Clermont, reaching finals on both the domestic and European fronts.
France traditionally give their scrum-halves the keys to boss the team around the field and Morgan Parra has the perfect profile to do so.
The vocal Clermont half-back controls matches with a direct kicking game and is also proficient from the tee, the 30-year-old having notched up 367 points in his 69 Tests.
Tomos Williams, like replacement Gareth Davies, is very much in the mould of a traditional Welsh number nine. He zips passes from the base of rucks and he has a unique way of picking support lines by short-cutting across field.
It will be 24-year-old Williams’ seventh appearance for Wales, after he made his debut against South Africa in Washington during last year’s tour and his Six Nations debut. He will not find a tougher competitor than Parra.
Agence France-Presse (AFP)