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Six Nations - Rugby Union: France look to continue Grand Slam march

Big things were expected from France going into the 2022 Six Nations Championship and Les Bleus have certainly not disappointed.

Heading to the penultimate round of the tournament, it looks like it will take something special to stop the French not only winning the title but scooping the Grand Slam as well.

Unscathed France ready for Cardiff clash

A Friday night game at the Prinicipality Stadium is always a special occasion and one that the superstars of this France side should thrive in.

Les Bleus made a somewhat sluggish start to the tournament in their first-half display against Italy but have been going up through the gears ever since.

France ran away with the second-half against the Azzurri to secure a 37-10 win in Paris, before edging out fellow title contenders Ireland 30-24 at the Stade de France.

Head coach Fabien Galthie then saw his side produce arguably the performance of the competition so far as they breezed past Scotland 36-17 in Edinburgh.

Murrayfield has not been a happy hunting ground for France in recent years but this current crop of players seem undaunted by any challenge put ahead of them.

That mentality will be crucial for what is expected to be another loud and proud Welsh public that will be backing the men in red to the last on Friday night.

Everything going to plan for France

Not only have France got the winning momentum they would have hoped for but they have also managed to avoid any big injuries to key personnel.

Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack will lineup in the halfbacks and expect the pair to dictate the pace of the game once again.

Jonathan Danty and Gael Fickou form a physical and skillful partnership in the centres, while winger Gabin Villiere appears to be in the form of his life.

Added to that is one of the most powerful packs in world rugby and one that dismantled New Zealand in Paris last autumn.

If that was not enough, the work defence coach Shaun Edwards has done across The Channel has taken France to the next level. That's what Wales will have to contend with in Cardiff.

Wales fared better than many expected in their last outing at Twickenham but still failed to back up a narrow win over Scotland.

England managed to edge out the contest 23-19 in London although there were plenty of positives for head coach Wayne Pivac to take from the contest.

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Wales have always been a different beast on home soil and they certainly won't make life easy for the French under the lights on Friday.

Skipper Dan Biggar will need to play another big role if Wales are to cause the shock of the tournament so far but this contest might well be a bridge too far for the hosts.

France are favourites at 1/4 to win, while Wales are 3/1 to claim a shock victory.

Townsend seeking Scots response

It has been the same old story for Scotland in the Six Nations this season as once again a lack of consistency has been their downfall.

A 20-17 win over England kick-started the tournament perfectly for the Scots, only for Townsend's men to be on the wrong end of the same scoreline in Cardiff.

While Scotland squandered a big chance just before half-time against France to take the lead at the break, it always looked like an uphill battle for the Scots against Les Bleus.

After a fallow week, the Scots have been able to focus all their attentions on their trip to Italy on Saturday.

There might have been a temptation by Townsend to make changes for the clash in Rome but the head coach has named his strongest possible side to face the Azzurri.

Finn Russell has failed to hit top form in the tournament so far but he retains his place in the No.10 jersey, while Adam Hastings has been called up to the bench.

Duhan van der Merwe is forced out through suspension, so Kyle Steyn gets the nod on the wing.

Flanker Hamish Watson returns to the forward pack and lines up alongside Matt Fagerson and rising star Rory Darge, who was one of the few bright lights for the Scots from the France game.

Scotland will be expected to run out comfortable winners to build up some positivity ahead of their trip to Dublin in the final round.

The Scots are 1/1 to come out on top with a -20 handicap.

Twickenham battle wraps up weekend

An attritional clash lies in wait for the final game of the weekend as England host Ireland at Rugby HQ.

Despite their defeat to France, Ireland will still harbour hopes Wales or England will be able to do them a favour and beat Les Bleus before the championship is over.

The Irish head to Twickenham on the back of a 57-6 win over Italy at the Aviva Stadium, and welcome back Johnny Sexton to the starting XV.

These are the kinds of games veteran fly-half Sexton lives for and expect the Test animal in him to come out for all to see on Saturday.

Ireland have one of the most structured and physical games in world rugby and it will be interesting to see how England try to combat that.

It's one thing knowing what the Irish will do, but another entirely being able to stop them.

England might require a more expansive game to try and catch out Andy Farrell's Ireland this weekend. And in Harlequins fly-half Marcus Smith, head coach Eddie Jones has just the player that can keep the Ireland defence second guessing.

The Red Rose will, of course, have to get the basics right first and the set-piece will again be a key area against a formidable Irish pack.

Ireland are favourites at 8/11 to earn their first win at Twickenham since 2018, while England are 11/10 for the victory as they aim to build on their win over Wales.

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