Come on Wales, Have Belief and France Are There for the Taking in Paris; HOOK CAN PULL THE STRINGS AND DELIVER A BIG FINISH

Article excerpt

Byline: ANDY HOWELL

* UDGING by the words which have been coming out of the Wales camp in the last 72 hours, you would think there couldn't be a worse time to be facing France in Paris.

Warren Gatland's players have been lining up to tell us Marc Lievremont's Les Bleus will come out with "guns blazing" and like "wounded animals" tonight as they seek to redress the Rome balance.

A typically negative Welsh response, in my view, to the biggest upset in Six Nations history.

I take the opposite viewpoint.

France, on the back of their shock 22-21 defeat to Italy, are there for the taking tonight.

Instead of talking up the French, Wales should be focusing upon their own positives, for there are many of those for this clash.

Since moving James Hook to 10 up in Scotland, Wales have won three games on the bounce and are more than capable of making it four this evening.

They are full of confidence and know they have yet to fire properly in this tournament. If they do in Paris, France could be made to pay.

Wales also have an impressive record at the Stade de France, winning three out of their six encounters there, so have no reason to fear walking into a cauldron which other teams are understandably so wary of.

Yes, everything considered, there is no reason why Gatland's team can't finish the championships on a real high and set themselves up for a proper crack at the World Cup in the autumn.

It may not be enough to win the title, because even if England lose in Ireland they will almost certainly have a superior points difference.

But it will guarantee a second-place finish - or joint top on eight points, if you want to put a more positive spin on it.

That in itself would be an achievement, given it's been feast or famine for Wales since the Six Nations came into being. Grand Slams in 2005 and 2008, or fourth spot or lower in the intervening years.

We can expect a thriller this evening because some of Wales' best rugby since the turn of the century has been played on the Paris fast-track.

Gatland needs to adopt the sort of bold approach Graham Henry used in 1999, when we had an unforgettable triumph, and let his players take the game to the French from the first whistle.

Wales, under Gatland, tend to be conservative, but they possess the players to let loose.

A brisk start could see their troubled opponents wave their arms in the air, shrug their shoulders and give up the fight.

Generating early points will answer the big question concerning France, namely does eccentric coach Livremont still command the dressing room? His unbelievable blast at his players following their Italian calamity was hardly conducive to promoting unity.

Accusing them of "betrayal, cowardice and lacking in courage" was man-management at its poorest.

If those words don't push his players over the edge, I don't know what will.

The French team aren't daft and will realise a poor performance against Wales could result in the coach, who has publicly humiliated them, going forward. …