Six Nations: Warren Gatland warns Wales squad of high expectations
Last Updated: 20/02/14 2:55pm
Warren Gatland: Not afraid to ring the changes with the 2015 Rugby World Cup in mind
Warren Gatland issued a warning salvo to his Wales squad, claiming he is not afraid to axe under-performers with the Rugby World Cup just over a year away.
Ahead of Friday's Six Nations encounter with France at the Millennium Stadium, Gatland made the impromptu decision to drop scrum-half Mike Phillips, who was replaced by Ospreys half-back Rhys Webb.
A 26-3 Six Nations reverse to Ireland earlier this month - Wales' heaviest in 32 Six Nations Tests since head coach Gatland took charge - has left their title hopes hanging by a thread.
Wales have enjoyed success under the tutelage of the New Zealander thus far, winning three Six Nations titles, two Grand Slams and reaching a World Cup semi-final.
However, with the countdown beginning to gather pace towards 2015 Rugby World Cup, Gatland is unwilling to tolerate performances like that in Dublin.
Warren Gatland drops Mike Phillips
"I think when we look back, there were a number of players who had not played a lot of rugby, and that probably was a reflection of us not being as sharp as we were and a couple of performances were not to the level we expect," he said.
"We've had a couple of conversations with a couple of players and said their performance was not good enough and not what we expected, and they are aware of that.
"Hopefully, they will respond, because it is important now for us in terms of not just this competition, but for a lot of those players they've got to start thinking about the next 12 months and you start thinking about the World Cup, and if they don't play well on Friday night it could be the last time they will play for Wales."
Not only did the inadequacy of Wales' performance at the Aviva Stadium concern Gatland, the coach now fears defeat in Cardiff will effectively end their chances of recording an historic hat-trick.
"It was a poor performance, and sometimes you can't plan for that," Gatland added. "We weren't at the races. Every now and again, it happens.
"We've had a couple of conversations with a couple of players and said their performance was not good enough and not what we expected, and they are aware of that."
"From a coaching perspective, the last time it happened to us was 2010 when we lost to Ireland at Croke Park and played poorly that day as well.
"It was probably a bit of a watershed for us four years ago in terms of personnel that we changed. We brought a lot of youngsters in after that, and the focus was on the (2011) World Cup build-up.
"But this time it's a little bit different because we have some players who did not fire for whatever reason. Sometimes that happens. It's disappointing and it's not acceptable, and we are hoping for a big turnaround on Friday night."
Gatland acknowledges the importance of maintaining impetus in the Six Nations and insists Wales must rediscover their form on Friday night.
"This tournament is about confidence and momentum," the 2013 British and Irish Lions coach said.
"If you look back, you also need a bit of luck. France got that against England, and seemed to me that they got a few turnover opportunities against Italy and started to play a little bit of rugby and build a bit of confidence.
"I think they will be coming Friday night with a spring in their step and some confidence, and we expect another physical game, particularly up-front.
"For us, it's an opportunity to get back on the horse and to put the performance against Ireland behind us."