14 Oct 2011

Wales in form and fearless ahead of France semi

11:17 pm on 14 October 2011

Wales bring form, confidence and a fearless attitude to the first rugby World Cup semi-final against France at Auckland's Eden Park on Saturday.

A generation of Welsh players struggled in the shadow of the team who ruled Europe in the 1970s and as recently as November last year the national team were assailed on all sides when they drew 16-16 with Fiji.

This year, Fiji, who eliminated Wales from the 2007 World Cup, were drawn in Wales' group again along with defending champions South Africa and Samoa, who upset Wales in the 1991 World Cup and again eight years later, Reuters reports.

Pessimists feared the Welsh could even fail to advance from the group stages. However, instead of faltering under the pressure they have flourished.

They lost by a point to South Africa in a match they should have won and then swept Samoa and Fiji aside to set up a quarter-final against Ireland.

Last weekend's 22-10 victory over Ireland, who defeated Australia in the pool stages, revealed a team hitting their peak with a tough forward pack setting a platform for a backline combining brute strength with old-fashioned Welsh subtlety and invention.

A major plus has been the belated return to form of a group of players who performed so well in a losing Lions series in South Africa two years ago and who now form the spine of the Welsh side.

They include centre Jamie Roberts, bristling with authority and aggression, halfback Mike Phillips, second-rower Alun Wyn Jones and tighthead prop Adam Jones.

Even the loss of first five-eighth Rhys Priestland with an injured left shoulder sustained in the Ireland match will not weaken the side. His replacement James Hook is a splendid all-round footballer who has been selected ahead of the dependable Stephen Jones.

Yachvili spared from kicking duties

France, enigmatic as ever, became the second side only to reach the quarter-finals after losing two pool matches but then sent England packing last weekend.

Dimitri Yachvili will start despite still being troubled by a thigh injury but will hand kicking duties to Morgan Parra as coach Marc Lievremont looks to protect the team's prize asset.

Uncapped utility back Jean Marc Doussain is added to the bench as Lievremont looks to keep the team as close to its original shape as possible.

France are burdened with the reputation of a side who can play one big game in a tournament, as they have shown by beating the All Blacks twice, Australia and England in the knockout stages, but then go no further.

They have won six of their last seven matches against Wales although historically there is nothing between two teams who meet for the first time in a World Cup.

Since their first encounter in 1908, Wales have won 44 times, France 43 with three draws.


Wales: Leigh Halfpenny, George North, Jonathan Davies, Jamie Roberts, Shane Williams, James Hook, Mike Phillips, Toby Faletau, Sam Warburton (captain), Danny Lydiate, Alun Wyn Jones, Luke Charteris, Adam Jones, Huw Bennett, Gethin Jenkins.

Reserves: Lloyd Burns, Bradley Davies, Ryan Jones, Lloyd Williams, Stephen Jones, Scott Williams.

France: Maxime Mdard, Vincent Clerc, Aurlien Rougerie, Maxime Mermoz, Alexis Palisson, Morgan Parra, Dimitri Yachvili, Imanol Harinordoquy, Julien Bonnaire, Thierry Dusautoir (centre), Lionel Nallet, Pascap Pap, Nicolas Mas, William Servat, Jean-Baptiste Poux.

Reserves: Dimitri Szarzewski, Fabine Barcella, Julien Pierre, Louis Picamoles, Francois Trinh-Duc, David Marty, Cdric Heymans.

Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)