Frogs are favourites in Auckland ruckus

JON CARDINELLI says that France’s ability to pressure the Welsh at ruck time and convert the inevitable goal-kicking opportunities will be the difference in Saturday’s semi-final.

According to ruckingoodstats.com, both Wales and France have treasured possession throughout their respective campaigns. Wales in particular have favoured a ball-in-hand, build-through-the-phases approach rather than a more tactical drive for territory.

Wales have averaged 100 rucks/mauls per game at this tournament, and are the best in terms of taking the ball through multiple phases. Statistically, they are the fourth best side in terms of breaking tackles inside the opposition’s 22, averaging 7.4 of these per match. No doubt Warren Gatland will instruct his charges to stick to a formula that has brought the Dragons great success thus far.

France have looked susceptible at the lineout, and are the worst team as far as handling infringements and penalties at this set-piece are concerned. Again, Wales will look to target the Tricolores in this area, but they will need to work hard to edge the French at the scrums and breakdowns.

Wales’ record at the scrum has been poor, as they rank second highest of all teams at this tournament that infringe on their own ball. They are also ranked the third highest in terms of resets. Given referee Alain Rolland’s strict reputation at scrum-time, the Welsh will need to produce an uncharacteristically disciplined showing this Saturday if they want to avoid conceding possession and points.

Nowadays, scrums and lineouts are not nearly as influential to the outcome as the breakdowns and collisions. Rolland can also be particularly unforgiving in this area, and it will please France to know that he has to date awarded the most ruck penalties of any official at this World Cup.

While Wales have done well to control possession, they have been guilty of conceding 40% of their penalties on attack, the most of any team at this tournament. By comparison, France are more disciplined on attack, and they boast an incredible overall record at the ruck. Of all the teams at the 2011 World Cup, they have conceded the fewest ruck penalties and the fewest overall penalties in their own half.

This suggests that Wales will struggle to wear the French down in a game of attrition, and they may need to vary their game a lot more if they hope to progress to the final. They have some good goal-kicking options in Leigh Halfpenny and Stephen Jones (who will be on the bench), but their starting flyhalf and likely goal-kicker James Hook only has a record of 6/9 (67%) at this particular tournament.

Again, the French are more accurate in this department. While Dimitri Yachvili (15/21 – 71%) won’t kick for goal this Saturday, Morgan Parra (9/11 – 82%) has proved that he has the temperament and the skill to convert the majority of France’s goal-kicking opportunities.

Parra could be the difference in a closely contested semi-final. The tale of the tape suggests that both teams are not averse to running the ball from their own 22, but Wales will battle to break the French down or force them into errors in the Tricolores’ territory.

France should look to control possession and pressure Wales at the scrums and rucks, and if Rolland awards penalties within goal-kicking range, the French, through Parra, will translate that pressure into points and ultimately a semi-final win.

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