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Woodman has good feeling about French test

Ryan Woodman

Woodman has good feeling about French test

Ryan Woodman’s Wales U20 side will have a shot at glory in Cape Town when they attempt to bring to an end France’s recent domination of the World Rugby U20 Championship.

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Having picked up two points in their narrow defeat to New Zealand, and then taken the full five in their 31-10 victory over Spain, Wales know that a win over the French will take them into the top-tier semi-finals.

That would be some turn-around from a Six Nations campaign in which they won two of their five games and were beaten 45-12 in Cardiff by the French. In fact, France have won the last five games between the two teams at U20 level, outscoring Wales by 34 tries to 11.

You have to go back to 21 February 2020 for the last Welsh win at this age against the French. That Welsh side has so far produced eight Welsh caps in Jacob Beetham, Joe Hawkins, Mason Grady, Sam Costelow, Ellis Bevan, Archie Griffin, Ben Carter and Jac Morgan.

But the French production line keeps on churning out top talent and Woodman almost ran out of fingers counting the number of players he had faced in his three games against the French to date in the U20 set-up who appeared in the senior French side on their current tour to Argentina.

“I was watching the France v Argentina game at the weekend and there were five or six players from the team I played against in recent years playing out there playing,” said Woodman.

“It’s quite cool to see, and we are starting to slowly match that with players going into the senior squad and others playing in URC. We are starting to become more competitive with them.

“We’re really excited about our chances against them this week and this is the best feeling I’ve had with a Welsh team going into a game against France.

“We’re playing the three-time on the bounce champions in France, and we’ve already faced New Zealand, who beat them in the last-minute last week. They are probably on similar levels of ability.

“Some of our previous games and scorelines against the French have been in the backs of our minds in the past, but now we have seen them lose and know they are not an invincible side we feel we have a shot.

“There is a real buzz around this game and some confidence. It’s not cockiness, we are just really excited to get a second shot at this really good team after what happened in the Six Nations.

“The boys weren’t happy with their performance against them in the Six Nations and they are just excited to try to get one back on them. We’re all very excited and we’re getting revved up for the challenge.”

Seven of the Welsh side that were beaten 43-19 at last year’s tournament are back for more – Woodman, Morgan Morse, Louie Hennessey, Jonny Green Josh Morse, Kian Hire and Harri Wilde – and for Woodman and his back row colleague Morse it will probably be their last chance to post a win over France at this level.

It will be Morse’s fifth shot at the French and Woodman’s fourth. Thus far it has been 47-15, 67-17, 45-12 and 43-19 to Les Bleues.

No fewer than eight players that have played against Woodman and Morse in those fixtures are on tour with France in Argentina this summer, while another, flying wing Louise Bielle-Biarrey, now has 11 caps and played in last year’s World Cup.

The two Welshmen have seen Joe Hawkins, Cam Winnett, Mackenzie Martin and Eddie James graduate into the senior Welsh side during their time and they both look set to join them in the future as full caps.

The win over Spain came against a back-drop of illness in the camp and was a job well done in the end. But now comes the acid test for Woodman’s warriors.

“We went into the game against Spain with a plan of getting a bonus point and now we can get into the top four if we can beat France. I was happy with that, we got the job done, although we could have scored more points,” said Woodman.

“Spain are the same type of team as the Georgians, Italians and Japanese. They are very passionate and love playing for their country – they flew at us and hit us hard, but we knew where we could exploit them.

“We know how big, physical and good France are. Once they make a line break it’s very hard to stop them.

“Last year when we played them, I think we thought they were the best team around and we’d find it hard to beat them, but there is more of a feeling this year that we could really do something against them. If we turn up on the day and play our game, there is no reason why we can’t cause an upset.

“I believe we have a chance – just like I believed we had a chance against New Zealand. We just have to stick to our game plan and execute.”

With weather forecasters predicting up to 90mph winds in Cape Town this week there could be problems for both teams in coping with near apocalyptic conditions.

“Looking at the weather that’s going to restrict them a little bit in how they play, which is in the typical French way. There are 50+mph winds predicted to come with the rain on the day,” added Woodman.

“I’m not sure whether that is going to suit us on the day, but we feel fresh and are ready to go after a tough week.”

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