- Associated Press - Thursday, February 20, 2020

CARDIFF, Wales (AP) - Nobody contributes to its own downfall quite like France.

Wales can endorse that.

Trying to reignite its Six Nations title defense on Saturday with a fourth straight win against France, Wales can justifiably hope its wish will be fulfilled at Principality Stadium. After all, the three most recent wins were all gifts from Les Tricolors.

Last October in their Rugby World Cup quarterfinal in Japan, France was in control at 19-10 until lock Sebastien Vahaamahina was sent off in the 48th minute for blatantly elbowing Aaron Wainwright in the face. Wales won 20-19.

A year ago in rainy Paris, France led 16-0 until dopey mistakes by Yoann Huget and Romain Ntamack gave George North two tries. Wales won 24-19.



A year before that in 2018 in Cardiff, French indiscipline had them trailing 14-10 at halftime. Despite having the better second half, Mathieu Bastareaud was held up by Dan Biggar and Francois Trinh-Duc missed a late penalty kick. Wales won 14-13.

But France’s fortunes were bound to turn, and they look like they have, finally.

The French head the table on points difference from Ireland. Both have won their first two matches to be the only unbeaten sides.

France has stunned England 24-17, and seen off Italy 35-22. Both times the French earned huge leads. They had England contained 24-0 and Italy 28-10. Then this young French side became complacent. With victory in hand their intensity dropped. But when their opponents attempted comebacks, the French smothered them by reasserting a defence shaped anew by Shaun Edwards, who branded Wales with his toughness for 12 years.

Spurred on by new coach Fabien Galthie, France has become less susceptible to brain fades. Halves Antoine Dupont and Ntamack have been maestros behind an imposing pack featuring Bernard Le Roux, Gregory Alldritt, and new captain Charles Ollivon.

But Wales loosehead prop Wyn Jones believes they are cheats.

“They’ll be a big pack, but probably ill-disciplined with that, especially at scrum time,” Jones said this week. “We know they will hit and chase and cheat.”

On the other hand, the Wales scrum “want to be positive, a no cheating mentality,” he added.

The comments were criticized not just by France but also by Wales and British Lions great Graham Price, who called them laughable. Price said Wales should stop complaining about other teams’ scrums and stop its own from being submissive on the field.

France regarded the Jones comments as insulting.

“It’s a lack of respect toward our scrum. It’s a lack of respect toward our team, toward French rugby, toward our nation,” Galthie said. “The Six Nations is about having (the right) mentality. This sort of comment does not belong.”

Added manager Raphaël Ibanez, the former hooker: “It’s a rude and puerile attack. Seeing the Welsh making a fuss in this way makes us smile. The word ‘cheating’ is a strong one.”

The last time a Jones riled the French, the comments backfired. England coach Eddie Jones promised to unleash “absolute brutality” against France in their first-round match, only to end up being embarrassed in Paris.

France seems to be nobody’s fool no longer.

___

Lineups:

Wales: Leigh Halfpenny, George North, Nick Tompkins, Hadleigh Parkes, Josh Adams, Dan Biggar, Gareth Davies; Taulupe Faletau, Justin Tipuric, Ross Moriarty, Alun Wyn Jones (captain), Jake Ball, Dillon Lewis, Ken Owens, Wyn Jones. Reserves: Ryan Elias, Rob Evans, Leon Brown, Will Rowlands, Aaron Wainwright, Tomos Williams, Jarrod Evans, Johnny McNicholl.

France: Anthony Bouthier, Teddy Thomas, Virimi Vakatawa, Arthur Vincent, Gaël Fickou, Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont; Grégory Alldritt, Charles Ollivon (captain), François Cros, Paul Willemse, Bernard Le Roux, Mohamed Haouas, Julien Marchand, Cyril Baille. Reserves: Camille Chat, Jean-Baptiste Gros, Demba Bemba, Romain Taofifenua, Dylan Cretin, Baptiste Serin, Matthieu Jalibert, Thomas Ramos.

___

More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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