Gatland gives Wales a stern warningComment on this story
Cardiff, United Kingdom – Wales coach Warren Galand has warned his faltering champions that another sub-standard Six Nations display against France in Cardiff on Friday could spell the end of their Test careers.
Gatland's men suffered a huge setback with a stunning 26-3 defeat by Ireland in Dublin a fortnight ago.
And the New Zealander warned a repeat at the Millennium Stadium might spell the end of some players' hopes of appearing at next year's World Cup in England.
“Our performance against Ireland was unacceptable and we have spoken all week about how we are going to respond,” Gatland said Wednesday.
“This game can't come quickly enough for the players and we are hoping for a big turn-around.
“This is a chance for the players to redeem themselves for the performance and with the 2015 World Cup in mind, if some players do not perform then it may be the last time they play for Wales.”
The Welsh will hope history repeats itself as they look to salvage their title bid against a resurgent France team fresh from home wins over England (26-24) and Italy (30-10).
Last year, George North's winning try against France saw Wales recover from defeat by Ireland with a victory that paved the way for what had appeared an unlikely second successive title.
Twelve months on and the defending champions must do the same again to retain any hope of becoming the first team to win the Championship outright three years in succession.
“France will be coming here with a spring in their step and the confidence that two victories naturally brings. The Six Nations tournament is all about momentum and they have that right now,” Gatland said.
“The challenge for us is to change that against a team who will also be hurting from the fact that we have beaten them for the last two years.”
Gatland clinched Grand Slams with victories over France at the Millennium Stadium in both 2008 and 2012 but Wales have lost 10 of their last 14 Tests against 'Les Bleus'.
The most notorious of those defeats was in the 2011 World Cup semi-final when Wales captain Sam Warburton was controversially sent-off by Alain Rolland.
By a curious twist of fate, the 47-year-old Irish referee will be in charge on Friday in his final Test before retiring at the end of the season.
Warburton will once again lead Wales having survived the changes to the Welsh team that saw British and Irish Lions scrum-half Mike Phillips dropped to the bench.
Rhys Webb, 25, starts his first Test after four appearances as a replacement for Phillips while North also makes his international bow at centre following the loss of the injured Scott Williams.
Liam Williams takes North's place on the wing while second-row Luke Charteris, who plays in France for Perpignan, replaces Andrew Coombs.
North got the nod ahead of James Hook partly due to French juggernaut centre Mathieu Bastareaud passing a fitness test to play.
That is a major boost to coach Philippe Saint-Andre as he looks to prolong France's revival following a humiliating Six Nations wooden spoon last year.
His players have enjoyed moments of individual brilliance but the former France captain knows his team cannot afford to drop their guard as they did in the second half against both England and Italy.
“The beginning of the second half against England was terrible and we did nothing in the last 20 minutes against Italy after playing well for an hour and scoring three good tries,” said Saint-Andre.
“We cannot do the same in Cardiff.”
Racing Metro's Wenceslas Lauret replaces the injured Bernard Le Roux in the only change to the starting team, although Brice Mach, Vincent Debaty and Remi Tales have all been promoted to the bench.
Victory for France would leave them well-placed for the title and a Grand Slam, with matches against troubled Scotland and a Paris date with Ireland to follow. – Sapa-AFP