x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Winning formula for Les Bleus

Marc Lievremont, the France coach, will stick with the same 23 players who triumphed in Wales on Friday night for their penultimate clash with Italy.

Marc Lievremont, the France coach, will stick with the same 23 players who triumphed in Wales on Friday night for their penultimate clash with Italy. Les Bleus stormed to a 26-20 success at the Millennium Stadium to reaffirm their status as tournament favourites and continue their quest for a clean sweep for the first time since 2004. Lievremont reported no fresh injuries worries following the full-blooded encounter in Cardiff and so keeps faith with the same squad for the match at the Stade de France on March 14.

France looked every inch Grand Slam winners when they roared into a 20-0 half-time lead on Friday but they showed their enigmatic nature in the secondhalf, allowing Wales to within a converted try of levelling the match. But penalties from Morgan Parra and Frederic Michalak settled the nerves and rendered Shane Williams's sizzling late try - breaking the Welsh championship record of 18 he jointly held with Gareth Edwards - little more than a consolation.

Richie Rees, the Wales scrum-half, feels Italy and England will have their work cut out to prevent France from romping away with the title. "I can see France probably going on to win it now, and I don't see why they won't be unbeaten," he said. Wales, meanwhile, head to Dublin on March 13 knowing defeat could leave them contesting the wooden spoon at home to Italy seven days later. "Perhaps we need to look at what we were doing 18 months ago, which was being very professional and clinical and not chasing games," said Martyn Williams, the flanker.

"Maybe we have gone away from that. We played a little bit too much rugby early on. France didn't really throw it around, they kicked everything and lived off our mistakes." * With agencies