Henry expecting "Huge Challenge"
Welsh coach Graham Henry is taking nothing for granted when his side lines up for tomorrow's opening Six Nations against World Cup finalists France. It will be Wales first Championship game in Cardiff since 1997, and their first in the Millennium Stadium, but the coach is expecting a huge test from the French "We know that it's going to be a huge challenge,'' claimed the New Zealand born Henry.
"On paper France are probably the best team in the Six Nations. They have some very experienced players and are bound to be on a high after the World Cup. The French can play as well as anyone in the world on their day, if not better.
"Certainly New Zealand underestimated them during the World Cup and couldn't handle an unstoppable French second-half performance, so our guys should be mentally on the edge for this game.''
Henry has made two changes - both enforced - for potentially tomorrow's
outstanding Six Nations clash.
Injuries to centre Scott Gibbs and lock Craig Quinnell mean respective opportunities for Sydney-born centre Jason Jones-Hughes and Pontypridd's Ian Gough.
But otherwise it is the same line-up that took on Australia last October and a victory could give Wales impetus for a serious assault on Six Nation's silverware, given that three of their five matches are at home. "Our goal for this tournament is to be better than we were last season - we need to move further up the graph," said Henry.
It is a sentiment echoed by new Wales's skipper David Young, the tight-head prop having replaced deposed Cardiff and British Lions colleague Rob Howley as captain.
"We are looking to better the standards we set last year and I believe that this is a very open Six Nations," he said. "Being back in Cardiff is a huge thing for us - it's the first time since 1997 - and we've got to make the Millennium Stadium atmosphere as intimidating for France as it is for visiting teams in Paris.''
With more than 70,000 aiming to roar Wales off the Richter Scale, let alone up Henry's performance graph, France could have their work cut out.
"I used to watch the Five Nations on television as a boy," said Jones-Hughes, who makes his Championship debut. "My father (born in Colwyn Bay) would always get worked up and I struggled to
understand it. But I know now that there are three million people like him in Wales and
rugby here is a passion."
It has all the ingredients for a classic, and what price tomorrow's winners going on to greater things as inaugural Six Nations champions? With momentum established, either country could take some stopping.