Wales looking to end France’s Grand Slam quest

A year after France ended Wales’ Six Nations winning streak, the Welsh are out to halt a French Grand Slam bid of their own.

The two sides meet at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on Friday with France boosted by victories over Scotland and Ireland and showing more strong signs they have revived under coach Marc Lievremont.

But Wales – beaten by England but victorious over the Scots – are out to underline their own title potential too and aim to knock the confident French off course with a show of power and swagger in front of their own fans in Cardiff.

“You have just got to put pressure on them,” said flank forward Martyn Williams, who will start against the French for the 12th time.

“Two years ago, we defended particularly well. It was one of the best defensive performances we’ve ever put in as a group,” he said of a 29-12 victory that clinched a Grand Slam.

“France have shown how dangerous they can be if you give them momentum. That’s the key – how we defend on Friday night, and hopefully a lot better than we did against Scotland.”

The Welsh almost lost that game against the Scots, trailing 24-14 before scoring 17 points in the last five minutes against a side down to 13 man because of yellow cards.

But they have the attacking flair to break through the French defense and also have scrumhalf Mike Phillips back on the bench after four months out with an ankle injury. Phillips will be backup to Richie Rees, who has been given the start by coach Warren Gatland in place of the dropped Gareth Cooper.

Despite the scare against the Scots, the Welsh have played better than results suggested. They lost 30-17 to England only because they conceded 17 points while lock Alun-Wyn Jones was in the sinbin.

“They could have beaten England at Twickenham (and) they finished the match brilliantly against Scotland,” Lievremont said.

“I imagine they will be very motivated to play against us and that it will be very hard.”

Also this weekend, England hosts Ireland at Twickenham and Scotland visits Italy in Rome.

England’s match against Ireland throws together two gifted centers seeking a strong performance for different reasons.

Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll needs to rally his side after a 33-10 defeat in Paris that ended a 15-month unbeaten streak, while Mathew Tait is trying to establish himself in England’s midfield.

Tait drifted from the side following the 2007 World Cup final, with England unsure which position suited him best. But he is about to make a third straight appearance at outside center, with fans desperate for him to ignite the attacking spark so rarely evident in Martin Johnson’s team.

“This is the position I feel the most comfortable in,” Tait said. “I have played the majority of my rugby there and I need to justify my selection.

“I probably should have said I wanted to stick to one position.

In the World Cup final, I played the second half at fullback and it went reasonably well, but I should have been stronger about where I want to play.”

Tait, who made England’s third try in the opening win over Wales and scored the only touchdown against Italy, will line up next to Riki Flutey in an unchanged side.

That means Jonny Wilkinson will continue at flyhalf despite taking the brunt of criticism that England was unimaginative during its 17-12 win in Rome, with the No. 10 reluctant to unleash what should be a potent set of backs.

Ireland opted for a change at flyhalf, dropping all-time tournament leading scorer Ronan O’Gara to pick Jonathan Sexton for the first time since the November win over South Africa.

Tighthead prop John Hayes will become the first player to reach 100 caps for Ireland. He made his debut in 2000 and is aiming to be at next year’s World Cup in New Zealand.

“I feel as good as I’ve ever done,” he said.

“If I stay injury-free

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