Gatland set to ring the changes for French test
Published 11/02/2014 | 19:08
Warren Gatland looks set to make changes - and also offer players a chance for redemption - when Wales face France in next week's make-or-break RBS 6 Nations clash.
Wales' hopes of achieving an unprecedented Six Nations title hat-trick suffered a huge setback when they were beaten 26-3 by Ireland last Saturday.
It was Wales' heaviest defeat in 32 Six Nations Tests since head coach Gatland took charge for the 2008 campaign, and dropped them to fourth place with a vastly-inferior points difference to unbeaten leaders Ireland and second-placed France.
Victory over Les Bleus at the Millennium Stadium in 10 days' time would revive title hopes ahead of a March 9 Twickenham appointment with England, but Wales are now chasing others in the race for silverware.
Lock Luke Charteris and flanker Justin Tipuric are among those being touted for call-ups. It is also feasible that wing George North could move to outside centre if Scott Williams does not recover in time from a shoulder injury and Jonathan Davies is not ready as he continues his fitness fight after suffering pectoral muscle damage during the autumn Test series opener against South Africa three months ago.
Wales captain Sam Warburton and prop Gethin Jenkins, meanwhile, are among 10 players who will be released to their regional teams for RaboDirect PRO12 action later this week.
The list, announced by the Welsh Rugby Union, also includes Ospreys trio Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb and Ryan Bevington, in addition to Scarlets prop Samson Lee.
Warburton made his first start in more than two months after recovering from a shoulder injury against Ireland, and Jenkins, who also started at the Aviva Stadium, is another player who has lacked game-time due to injury.
"When we look back, there were probably four of that forward pack that hadn't had a lot of rugby in terms of Sam and Gethin, while Adam Jones hadn't played a lot and Andrew Coombs hadn't had a lot of rugby," Gatland said.
"A couple of other players have had a lot of rugby, and one or two bad performances.
"We have spoken to players and they have admitted their display and performance was below par and unlike them. I have been pleased with the response of the players in terms of their attitude.
"We have had a close look at ourselves as coaches as well and what we could do differently, because we need to take collective responsibility for what was a disappointing performance.
"We will do whatever we can to make sure the performance is a lot better in the next game. We have set really high standards for ourselves as a team, and we have achieved a lot as a group.
"We are not hiding away from the fact that performance wasn't good enough and we didn't represent Wales as a nation as well as we could have.
"We have looked at everything, the game, the personnel and whether we need to make a couple of changes. Do we give players an opportunity to show that was a one-off performance and they are better than that?"
Ireland dominated Gatland's men in every area, but wholesale changes are unlikely as the New Zealander seeks a reaction from players whose character will now be tested.
"We have tried to be as honest as we could be post the game from a coaching and a players' perspective," Gatland added.
"It's not a case of looking to blame, it's just saying let's hold our hands up and say that wasn't a good enough performance.
"If I look back on my playing career, every now and again you are going to have a performance that is poor. It's how you respond to that, and we admitted we just didn't play well enough.
"We had worked on things in terms of defending driving lineouts, and we just didn't react to that during the game, and Ireland probably competed harder than us at the breakdown."
Williams, meanwhile, will continue to be assessed after being hurt when he tackled Brian O'Driscoll midway through the first-half, and his Scarlets midfield colleague Davies remains on the recovery trail.
"He (Davies) has been re-scanned. He is still a little bit sore at the moment," Gatland said.
"We are not too sure at the moment whether he will be available against France. He is still not 100 per cent.
"He played that game for the Scarlets last week and felt a little bit sore, so we are trying to assess him to get up to speed in terms of lifting weights and contact. He is not there at the moment, so he is not available at the moment."