Preview: France v Wales

France and Wales have already played out one thriller in 2019. On Sunday we could be in for another.

France and Wales have already played out one thriller in 2019. On Sunday we could be in for another.

On the opening night of the 2019 Guinness Six Nations, Les Bleus opened up a 16-0 half-time lead, only for Wales to roar back and pull off a record comeback.

That result prompted Warren Gatland to say that his team had forgotten how to lose, and in his defence, they are now on a run of 18 successive wins outside warm-up matches.

They take on a French team who they have beaten regularly in recent years, with seven wins in their last eight meetings, including that dramatic success in Paris.

And yet, the vast majority of those matches have gone down to the wire, so Wales will not be taking France lightly.

Gatland has been given good news with the fitness of Dan Biggar and Jonathan Davies, both ready and into the starting line-up.

France were similarly waiting on a pair of key backs, and both Antoine Dupont and Damian Penaud have come through to start.

Whatever happens in Oita, this game will signal the end of the line for one of the coaches, with both Gatland and opposite number Jacques Brunel, stepping down at the end of the World Cup.

Eight years after his team fell agonisingly short against Les Bleus in a World Cup semi-final – despite Sam Warburton’s first-half red card – Gatland will be desperate to avoid another heart-breaking loss to the French.

Recent history would suggest they will do so, we will find out on Sunday.

France v Wales, Sunday October 20, Oita, Kick-off 8:15AM (BST)

France coach Jacques Brunel:

“I’m not sure if we feel free. We know what’s at stake: it’s a knockout game. Twelve teams have gone home, there are eight left.

“We don’t want to go home. To avoid that we will have to play a complete game. Until now we haven’t managed to play a game over the full 80 minutes.

“We are up against one of the three best teams in the world, and they have been consistent in the pools. It’s a huge challenge but if we can match that consistency, we think we have a chance.”

Wales coach Warren Gatland:

“They are a big team, a physical team. We’ve had a great record against them, we’ve won seven of the last eight games and the one we lost was the 100-minute game in Paris where they scored in the last minute.

“The roof is closed on Sunday so the weather conditions shouldn’t deter from the rugby that’s played. We are feeling really positive about the way we’ve prepared. We had a great training session this morning.

“There was an edge to this week and the players have been incredibly professional in the way they’ve prepared. The staff have done extra work and we’ve tried to nail off every situation because we know it’s knockout stages.

“The message to the players is you’ve got two choices here – we are either on the plane on Monday going home or we are here until the end of the tournament.”

There are intriguing match-ups all over the park, but one of the most interesting will be in the midfield where Jonathan Davies has overcome a knee injury to start. Davies was one of the three players who also started the semi-final between these two eight years ago and will be looking to avenge that loss. He was excellent in his last game against Fiji, including one spectacular offload to put Josh Adams over. Defensively he was tested in that game, and it will be the same again here against Virimi Vakatawa. The Racing centre is one of the more unlikely figures in the quarter-finals, he was not even in France’s wider squad at the start of the summer. He took advantage of Geoffrey Doumayrou’s injury to break into the squad, and has since been so good that Jacques Brunel has given him the starting role. If he can get at Davies in midfield, then France will hope their finishers out wide can take their chances.

France: 15. Maxime Medard, 14. Damian Penaud, 13. Virimi Vakatawa, 12. Gael Fickou, 11. Yoann Huget, 10. Romain Ntamack, 9. Antoine Dupont, 1. Jefferson Poirot, 2. Guilhem Guirado (c), 3. Rabah Slimani, 4. Bernard le Roux, 5. Sebastien Vahaamahina, 6. Wenceslas Lauret, 7. Charles Ollivon, 8. Gregory Alldritt

Replacements: 16. Camille Chat, 17. Cyril Baille, 18. Emerick Setiano, 19. Paul Gabrillagues, 20. Louis Picamoles, 21. Baptiste Serin, 22. Camille Lopez, 23. Vincent Rattez

Wales: 15. Liam Williams, 14. George North, 13. Jonathan Davies, 12. Hadleigh Parkes, 11. Josh Adams, 10. Dan Biggar, 9. Gareth Davies, 1. Wyn Jones, 2. Ken Owens, 3. Tomas Francis, 4. Jake Ball, 5. Alun Wyn Jones (c), 6. Aaron Wainwright, 7. Justin Tipuric, 8. Josh Navidi

Replacements: 16. Elliot Dee, 17. Rhys Carre, 18. Dillon Lewis, 19. Adam Beard, 20. Ross Moriarty, 21. Tomos Williams, 22. Rhys Patchell, 23. Owen Watkin