CARDIFF • Warren Gatland put his best frown forward and warned that France are not fit enough to run rings around Wales in the Principality Stadium today.
In a resolutely downbeat address, the Wales coach said that Les Bleus suffered from poor conditioning and a gruelling domestic schedule, while French flair was summarily consigned to the past.
For any fans yearning for the Northern Hemisphere to turn the rugby world upside down this weekend, the message was stark.
"In the past, they have gone out with the attitude of 'jouez, jouez, let's play'," Gatland said of France. "For teams like us that is just 'happy days'. We love that sort of thing. If you are going to come and play like that it's just so easy to shut down."
It is worth noting Gatland said all this, having just remarked that England coach Eddie Jones was doing a good job in winding up the Irish. If rugby has become a mix of barbs and carbs, Gatland shares Jones' apparent obsession with fitness.
After French journalists asked him to elaborate on his remark that none of the Wales team had improved by playing in the Top 14, Gatland said: "We feel that it is not so much from a rugby perspective, but from a conditioning point of view. The players come back from France and are as not as fit as they were when we've had them here."
FRENCH WITHOUT FLAIR
Everyone talks about French flair and where has the flair gone. In the past, they had absolute world-class quality players in attack, but it's not because they haven't got the players; it's just teams defensively are so organised.
WARREN GATLAND, Wales rugby coach, on French teams past and present.
France have been fit enough to win two unspectacular Six Nations matches under Guy Noves while Wales started their campaign with a 16-16 draw with Ireland before beating Scotland 27-23.
Gatland, who said that Cardiff wing Tom James had been dropped because of a lack of sharpness and another "bit of conditioning", said France were "dangerous" but was scathing about the notion of Noves reviving a more open game.
"Everyone talks about French flair and where has the flair gone," he said. "In the past, they had absolute world-class quality players in attack, but it's not because they haven't got the players; it's just teams defensively are so organised.
"There is just no space on the field. You come up against an organised defence and people who are as conditioned and as fit as you are."
Noves has made five changes to his team, with scrumhalf Maxime Machenaud set to start today.
Machenaud replaced Sebastien Bezy and will pair up with flyhalf Jules Plisson. Djibril Camara was handed his first cap in place of injured winger Teddy Thomas. Antoine Burban will start at flanker in place of Yacouba Camara while Paul Jedrasiak takes Yoann Maestri's place in the second row. Rabah Slimani starts at prop with Uini Atonio moving to the bench.
THE TIMES, LONDON, REUTERS
WALES V FRANCE
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