12:02am Saturday 22nd February 2014
WALES coach Warren Gatland hailed his players for a "brilliant" response to their Dublin debacle that put themselves back in RBS 6 Nations title contention with a 27-6 Millennium Stadium drubbing of France.
Wales were transformed from the side left battered and bruised by Ireland 13 days ago, never looking back once an early George North try and five Leigh Halfpenny penalties put them 14 points clear at half-time.
It did not improve for France after the break either, as Wales powered home to claim a record Six Nations win against Les Bleus after skipper Sam Warburton touched down, with Halfpenny's conversion giving him a 17-point haul.
Wales, having revived their hopes of achieving an unprecedented Six Nations title hat-trick, now move on to tackle England at Twickenham in 16 days' time.
"We know we let ourselves down in Dublin in terms of the way we played and the performance," Gatland said, reflecting on that 26-3 drubbing.
"There was a lot of pressure on the coaches and the players, and they responded brilliantly. I thought it was an excellent display.
"The message is always when you put that jersey on that you need to remind yourself sometimes about the responsibility. We are such a small playing nation that you can't take that jersey for granted. That was the message.
"The performance against Ireland just wasn't good enough. It wasn't good enough from the players or coaches.
"It was a reminder that when we put that jersey on we have got a huge amount to play for, whether it is family or friends or players from the past.
"The atmosphere tonight was sensational, and the players responded brilliantly to the pressure they were put under.
"Even though there was a lot of criticism out there and people calling for wholesale changes, I am a great believer in sometimes giving players a chance to redeem themselves. That is definitely what happened tonight.
"When you are involved in a game that doesn't go your way, then you want the chance to go out there and put things right."
Wales' record Six Nations win against France has put them back in the title mix ahead of tackling England, and then hosting Scotland on March 15.
And assessing hopes of silverware, Gatland added: "It gives us a better chance than we had before tonight. If you look at Dublin, you would probably have expected tonight to be a lot closer. We are back in contention.
"We have got some confidence and can build a bit of momentum. We have had some good results at Twickenham.
"All you can ask as coaches is for the players to give 100 per cent, and they did that."
And Warburton said: "It has been a very long two weeks. It has been quite a long time having to wait. The pain we felt after Ireland has fuelled the last two weeks' training.
"We really wanted to put things right, everyone knuckled down. Everyone was so desperate."
Prop Gethin Jenkins was named man of the match after he was a pivotal part of a Wales pack that unexpectedly outmuscled the French.
"It was a tough two weeks," he said.
"We were excited to get back out on field and prove we are a good team and win.
"A lot of harsh words have been spoken and we had to deliver - especially the front five.
"The coaches gave us a kick up the backside."
Woeful France saw their hopes of a Grand Slam disappear without trace. They had beaten England and Italy, but proved no match for Wales, and coach Philippe Saint-Andre could not mask his frustration.
"We knew the first 20 minutes would be vital and crucial after Wales' last game two weeks ago, but after 10 minutes we were 11 points down after conceding two silly penalties and a try," he said.
"We knew if we wanted to win that we would have to start well.
"Our motivation should have been as strong as that of the Welsh team, and our desire should have been the same, but it wasn't.
"I have told the players that we can still win the Six Nations, and we now have to target wins against Scotland and Ireland."
© Copyright 2001-2015 Newsquest Media Group