The start of this Wales-France, the fourth match of the Blues in this 2024 Six Nations Tournament, will be given this Sunday at 4 p.m. at the Principality Stadium (formerly Millennium) in Cardiff. After its heavy setback against Ireland, its snatch victory in Scotland and its pitiful match against Italy, the XV of France must redeem itself against the Welsh.

The meeting is broadcast live on France 2, with comments from Matthieu Lartot and Dimitri Yachvili. It can also be followed on, commented by the dapper Louis Mouret. This meeting will be refereed by the Englishman Luke Pearce who will direct his 51st international match, thus becoming the 11th man on the whistle to cross this symbolic threshold and the third Englishman after Wayne Barnes and Chris White. Born in Wales, Luke Pearce officiated during the match won by the Blues against the Welsh (32-30) in March 2021.

Since taking office in 2020, Fabien Galthié has never shaken up his starting XV so much from one match to the next. After the spectacular failure against Italy (13-13), the Blues coach deviated from his principles, making no fewer than eight changes, or more than half of his team. The absences of Matthieu Jalibert (injury) and Jonathan Danty (suspension) reshuffled the cards behind, and the returns from injury of Thibaud Flament and Emmanuel Meafou have completely reshaped the composition of the second line. “I always said that we had to come and get the jersey,” repeats Fabien Galthié. This is a bit of what happened this week but also for five years. But everything was built coherently. These are players who have built their journey with ups and downs, who have been enduring, resistant and stubborn.

The composition of the French Mauvaka, S. Taofifenua, Colombe, R. Taofifenua, Roumat, Boudehent, Lucu, Moefana

The end of the tunnel. The Stade Toulousain hooker, Julien Marchand, finds a starting place in the French team this Sunday. A first since the opening match of the last World Cup against the All Blacks, where he was hit in the thigh in the 12th minute. Fabien Galthié welcomed the return of a Blues executive, who replaced Peato Mauvaka during the first three matches of this Tournament: “Julien had an injury which took him off the field for a long time. He’s coming back, he’s made several entries with us. Here too, we are in emulation. It seems to us that Julien will bring us his determination. He’s truly a great soldier, an extraordinary personality. The harder you are, the stronger it is. It is the symbol of the resilience and strength of character of this team.”

In the big redistribution of cards which was made official this Friday, four players will honor their first international cap at the Principality Stadium. The second row Emmanuel Meafou, long awaited in the French team, the center Nicolas Depoortère, winter sensation, the back Léo Barré, decisive and valuable at the Stade Français Paris, and the replacement pillar Georges-Henri Colombe, at impressive physical potential, will have their chance at international level. “Despite the desire to have consistency and logic, it is perhaps the Tournament where there are the most first caps,” recognizes Fabien Galthié. It’s a feeling, but we will take stock at the end of the competition.” Places are up for grabs in Blue, the trauma of the last World Cup having – visibly – not been evacuated. A burden that these four players do not carry.

Since taking office after the 2019 World Cup in Japan, Fabien Galthié has always beaten Wales: four times in the Tournament and once in a test match in November 2020. It is the nation of the Tournament which achieves the better for the French coach, since he now has a draw against Italy. Under his command, the Blues won (narrowly) during their last two trips to Cardiff in 2020 (23-27) and 2022 (9-13). The trend has spectacularly reversed for the French because, before this series of five victories, they had conceded eight defeats in nine clashes with the XV du Poireau.

Warren Gatland, back at the head of a moribund Welsh selection, has decided to bet on the future by launching many young people. This Sunday, the makeover is spectacular with a starting XV with an average age of 26 and just under 28 caps per player. The glorious old ones have disappeared: Dan Biggar (34 years old) and Leigh Halfpenny (35 years old) have retired internationally, Liam Williams has gone to fill his bank account in Japan, the nugget Louis Rees-Zammit tries his hand at American football and the co-captains of the last World Cup, Jac Morgan and Dewi Lake, are on the sidelines. To face the French XV, Gatland made a strong choice – and little understood by the local press – by doing without his experienced pair of centers composed of Nick Tompkins (35 caps) and George North (120). Two players who have 155 caps between them, who were decisive during the last World Cup!

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Instead, the Welsh staff aligned Owen Watkin (37 caps) but especially Joe Roberts, only one small cap on the clock. A choice justified by Mike Forshaw, the defense coach of the Leek XV: “There is always a risk in each selection, but we must have confidence in the messages we transmit and in the choices we make. They (North and Tompkins) are not injured. We interviewed Nick and George. They strongly believe in what we do.”