Ken Owens admits Wales will need to step up a level to handle France
Ken Owens accepts that Wales will need to hit another level when they face mission improbable against France in Paris on Saturday.
Wales’ underwhelming Guinness Six Nations campaign reaches its conclusion at Stade de France, where Les Bleus are red-hot favourites to keep the pressure on tournament leaders Ireland.
France have won four games in a row against Wales, and they are fresh from a mesmeric display last weekend that saw them dismantle England 53-10 at Twickenham.
Wales ended a painful losing run with victory over Italy last time out, but France in the forecast Paris sunshine provide a completely different proposition.
“They had a fantastic performance against England,” Wales captain Owens said. “They will have been revved up.
“We know we always have to get better to compete with the top teams in this competition.
“Last Saturday was a step up in terms of our performance, consistency and execution. We are going to have to go up again.
“We knew that we would have to get better as the tournament went on – we have in certain areas – and we will have to be at the top of our game on Saturday.
“It is nothing new for us. No-one is expecting anything from us after France’s performances in this competition.”
Wales’ recent record in the French capital is strong, with three Six Nations wins from the last five visits.
But France, inspired by their mercurial captain Antoine Dupont and building ominously to a home World Cup in just six months’ time, look stronger than ever.
“The hardest thing with those boys is that they are big men, but they are very athletic, they move well and are fit,” Owens added.
“You expect players that size to be slow after 40-50 minutes, but that doesn’t happen with them.
“When they keep coming, you have to get off the line and keep tackling them. It takes the energy out of you. Our fitness levels have to be up there.
“One thing that is different with France is that defensively they are much better than what they have been traditionally.
“We all know Shaun Edwards is in there and the job he has done and their discipline is also much better.”
Wales will look to make it a red-letter day for number eight Taulupe Faletau, who becomes his country’s eighth cap centurion, while prop Dillon Lewis is poised for a 50th Test appearance off the bench.
But while there were signs of an improvement in the Italy win, four victories from the last 16 games is a record that does not suggest France will be troubled.
Owens said: “The pressure is off externally because no-one is expecting anything from us, but as a group we’ve got two guys reaching milestones this week, so it is important we put a performance in for them and make sure it is a special day for them.
“It has been a frustrating campaign. We haven’t performed consistently, as we would have liked.
“We have to keep building. We had a good performance last week, a good win, and we have to deliver again leading into World Cup preparation for what is to come in the autumn.”
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