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1. France start fast
France could not afford to get dragged into an attritional, forward-based contest. They have neither the big match steel nor grunt in the pack to grind out a victory against a Welsh side designed to do exactly that. What they had to do was invite the Welsh to play their game, broken-field, transition rugby and ask them to expand their repertoire.
To do that, they needed a fast start, and got one. Hitting width and with great appetite to play, they began with pace in space, utilising their dangerous midfield carriers Gael Fickou and Virimi Vakatawa early to break the line and get beyond the Welsh defence. Vakatawa might have been over had Damian Penaud been able to slip his offload into the former sevens star’s hands, but soon after Sebastien Vahaamahina managed to burrow his way through after a powerful driving maul went close.
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This is a French side full of flair, with free-runners aplenty, and soon after it was two, with Vakatawa again prominent.
2. Virimi Vakatawa’s brilliance
The story of Virimi Vakatawa is strange, sad and special. Born in New Zealand and raised in Fiji, he was brought to France by great Fijian wing Sireli Bobo, qualifying for his adopted nation in 2013 and immediately being brought into the French sevens circuit.
With flamenco footwork, pace, power and an offloading game to rival the world’s best, Vakatawa was one of the true stars of the sevens circuit, and parachuted in to the French national team set-up ahead of the 2016 Six Nations, and immediately given a prominent role as a roaming wing on a combined contract with the sevens set-up.
But Vakatawa was far from a finished product, and struggled to provide impact in a team that had serious problems inside him. Jacques Brunel’s installation as head coach rather saw Vakatawa cast aside, and, in many ways, forgotten about
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