France v Wales: Gatland's side can boost Six Nations hopes with opening win
The Six Nations gets underway on Friday night in Paris and Simon Mail is backing Wales to come back from the French capital with maximum points...
"Wales have won six of the last seven meetings against France and have never faced them off the back of a nine-game winning run."
France v Wales
Live on BBC One
Wales end year on a high
Wales ended last year in style with their first ever autumn international clean sweep after a run of nine successive victories. It has set up Warren Gatland's side perfectly for this season's Six Nations which will be his final one in charge. Victories in November over South Africa and Australia, which was their first win against them for ten years, suggest Wales are serious contenders for the championship.
Three wins in the tournament last season saw Wales finish second and Gatland has been vocal in saying he believes the team have a strong chance of winning the title this year. Their chances could be dependent on getting off to a winning start in France although home clashes against champions Ireland and England do give them a slight advantage.
Scrum-half Tomos Williams will make his Six Nations debut with the Cardiff back lining up alongside club team-mate Gareth Anscombe. Prop Rob Evans and flanker Josh Navidi come in for the injured Nicky Smith and Ellis Jenkins. Gatland is taking a gamble on the fitness of Ross Moriarty with the number eight not having played since December due to concussion.
France still struggling for consistency
France finished fourth 12 months ago and once again underlined their potential to excel, in their home win over England, as well as a habit of not performing away from home. Jacques Brunel's side have continued to go from one extreme to the other and their home defeat to Fiji in November was the latest disappointment.
Brunel has made some bold choices for their opener with 19-year-old Toulouse centre Romain Ntamark handed his first cap. The talented teenager lines up alongside Wesley Fofana, with Mathieu Bastareaud left out of the matchday squad. Scrum-half Morgan Parra makes his first start in the competition since 2015 with Camille Lopez picked at fly-half.
Recent record gives edge to visitors
Wales head to Paris with confidence and their recent record against France is another reason for optimism. Wales have won six of the last seven meetings between the teams and have never faced them off the back of a nine-game winning run. Two of the last three clashes in France have been won by Wales so the trip will hold no fears for them.
The odds suggest it is difficult to split them although current form indicates Wales are the best bet. France have lost six of their last seven games so the hosts do not come into this with any real momentum. This is in stark contrast to a Wales side unbeaten since losing in Ireland last February. It looks worth siding with the visitors to open up with a victory at the Stade de France.
The forecast for Paris suggests a cold and wet night which may only serve to enhance the likelihood of a tight, low-scoring match. France's last two defeats have both been by single-figure margins while three of Wales' last four wins have been by no more than 12 points. The best bet is to back Wales to extend their winning run and boost their title prospects with a narrow victory.
Follow Simon's bets on Twitter @watfordtipster
P/L 2018-19 season
Back Wales to win by 1-12 points at [2.74]