Gatland wary of French challenge
March 18, 2011
Warren Gatland's Wales side are still in the running for this year's Six Nations title © Getty Images
Wales coach Warren Gatland is refusing to take the challenge of a seemingly dispirited France side lightly ahead of their Six Nations clash in Paris.
Victory over Les Bleus at the Stade de France on Saturday night could prove enough to give Wales the Championship title for the first time since their 2008 Grand Slam campaign although they must also rely on Ireland to crush title favourites England in Dublin.
The task facing Wales would appear to be the easier one following France's stunning defeat at the hands of Italy at the Stadio Flaminio last weekend but Gatland has urged caution as his under-fire French counterpart Marc Lievremont prepares to send out a team showing five changes from Rome.
"We are just concentrating on ourselves and getting ourselves right for Saturday night," said Gatland. "France are really dangerous when they are a wounded bull, and for the players coming in this weekend it is a great opportunity for them to make a mark.
"With World Cup selection a few months away, they will be extremely motivated and see it as an opportunity, and for the players re-selected they will be disappointed by their loss in Rome, so we are expecting a desperate French team to come out against us. We are going into the final round of the championship in second place and still with a shot at the title. That's pleasing, but it is not good enough yet - we need to finish the job and win in France.
"That is the only element of this weekend we can control, and it is vitally important that we maintain our focus on what will be one of the toughest challenges of this campaign. The luxury we have is that we are going to know the results of the other two games beforehand. I think Ireland have got a chance of beating England in Dublin, it's a tough place to go.
"It is important we go out and play positively, and the key for us is to be a lot more clinical than we have been."
Gatland has called up 18-year-old wing George North and selected fit-again prop Adam Jones as respective replacements for knee injury victim Shane Williams and Craig Mitchell (dislocated shoulder). North will make a Six Nations debut four months after he scored two tries for Wales against world champions South Africa, with Jones handed the task of subduing powerful French loose-head Thomas Domingo.
"We think George is a real quality player of the future, someone who is going to be special," added Gatland. "He is still learning his trade, but in a year or two I think he is going to be an absolute star in the game. He's hugely talented, he's a very intelligent rugby player and works really hard. This is his first Test away from home, so he is pretty excited about it, and we are looking forward to what impact he will possibly have on the match."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
It was another bumper year of rugby action in 2014; join us as we take a look back at some of the season's top statistics
Salary caps, Saints, sinners and scrums - Monday Maul looks back at the key talking points from an eventful weekend
The latest Week in Pictures takes in a fiery East Midlands derby and all the action from the Aviva Premiership and Top 14