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Wales want to get back on track, France want to stay on track in 6 Nations showdown in Cardiff

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CARDIFF, Wales - Wales and France want to put things right on Friday.

Whichever one does at Millennium Stadium will have a huge bearing on the Six Nations.

Welsh ambitions of three straight championships are on thin ice.

That strut in their stride that coach Warren Gatland said they should show off before the tournament has been replaced by a limp. After the 26-3 thrashing from Ireland for their worst Six Nations result in eight years, they face two consecutive defeats.

That hasn't happened since 2010, when France last won in Cardiff, which also happened to be on a Friday night.

"We need to react," said George North, who after 37 destructive caps on the wing will start at centre to answer an SOS by Wales.

Having beating England and Italy in Paris, the French are on remarkable course to the title.

But they are still ridding themselves of the bitter taste of 2013, their annus horribilis, when they were also last in the Six Nations. This year they are the leaders with Ireland with two wins from two matches, but the Tricolors' have yet to play well for 40 minutes, let alone 80. They have fired only in spurts.

"The squad has done enormously well to pick up two wins. We have to make the most of it," said No. 8 Louis Picamoles, the tournament's leading forward in metres made.

France's rising confidence has been crucially helped by coach Philippe Saint-Andre's limited tinkering. He's made four changes through three rounds. At the same point in 2013, he'd made 10.

Gatland kept his changes for this match to four, with only one in the pack where Wales was dominated in Dublin. The lack of game-time beforehand by the likes of props Adam Jones and Gethin Jenkins, and captain Sam Warburton was exposed by the Irish, prompting Warburton and Jenkins to be released to play for their clubs last weekend.

Rhys Webb played for Ospreys, and the display was good enough for him to be given his first test start in place of Mike Phillips, the 82-cap scrumhalf who has paid for his slow service and inattention.

The Welsh regard the drubbing from Ireland as a one-off, one bad day at the office, even though they also had a bad half-day against Italy. Gatland was so disturbed by the effort that he's warned his team that test careers are on the line.

"Hopefully, they will respond, because it is important for us in terms of not just this competition," Gatland said. "For a lot of those players they've got to start thinking about the next 12 months and the World Cup, and if they don't play well on Friday night it could be the last time they will play for Wales.

"It's an opportunity to get back on the horse."

But Ireland gave France a blueprint to success. Dominate the lineouts and the breakdowns. Starve the Wales backline.

Ireland scored tries from lineout mauls, and Wales lock Alun-Wyn Jones acknowledged they're difficult to defend.

"Once the ball is at the back of the maul, you can't get to it, pull it down, tackle it, sack it, once it's moving," Jones said. "That is why it is such a weapon.

"It's most definitely a case of stopping it at source. We didn't do that.

"Any team that has coded us, taken a good look at us, is going to point to it as an opportunity. It's in the armoury of almost every team in the French league, and that is not going to change on Friday night."

Wales just needs to be itself, walk with a strut, North said.

"It's important to remember that we proved last year that defeat doesn't mean it's all lost," North said. "We have a lot to play for."

___

Lineups:

Wales: Leigh Halfpenny, Alex Cuthbert, George North, Jamie Roberts, Liam Williams, Rhys Priestland, Rhys Webb; Taulupe Faletau, Sam Warburton (captain), Dan Lydiate, Alun-Wyn Jones, Luke Charteris, Adam Jones, Richard Hibbard, Gethin Jenkins. Reserves: Ken Owens, Paul James, Rhodri Jones, Jake Ball, Justin Tipuric, Mike Phillips, Dan Biggar, James Hook.

France: Brice Dulin, Yoann Huget, Mathieu Bastareaud, Wesley Fofana, Hugo Bonneval, Jules Plisson, Jean-Marc Doussain; Louis Picamoles, Wenceslas Lauret, Yannick Nyanga, Pascal Pape (captain), Yoann Maestri, Nicolas Mas, Dimitri Szarzewski, Thomas Domingo. Reserves: Brice Mach, Yannick Forestier, Vincent Debaty, Sebastien Vahaamahina, Damien Chouly, Maxime Machenaud, Remi Tales, Gael Fickou.

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