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Gatland wants Wales to stay in hot pursuit of Six Nations runners-up spot

Wales are set to secure second place in this season’s tournament if they beat France on Saturday.

Warren Gatland has underlined Wales’ fierce determination to end their NatWest 6 Nations campaign strongly by securing the runners-up spot behind champions Ireland.

The Wales head coach has made seven changes for his team’s Principality Stadium appointment with France on Saturday, in addition to moving Saracens’ Liam Williams from full-back to wing.

Captain Alun Wyn Jones leads the side after being rested for last weekend’s bonus-point victory over Italy, while full-back Leigh Halfpenny, centre Scott Williams, fly-half Dan Biggar and flanker Josh Navidi are among those who also feature.

Biggar is back in the number 10 shirt, taking over from Gareth Anscombe, and Williams is in for Owen Watkin, with prop Rob Evans and hooker Ken Owens also returning to action.

Asked about Biggar’s selection, Gatland said: “We are going back to the experience, and defensively he is very strong and very good in the air.

“There was a very lively debate about the number 10 position, and that’s a nice place for us to be.

“We feel we are in a lot stronger position than we were three or four years ago with depth in the squad, and it is nice to have those selection dilemmas.

“For us, it (Saturday) is pretty important in terms of an opportunity to finish second. The exciting thing about the championship at the moment is how close it is and how many teams think they are capable of winning it.

Wales v South Africa – Autumn International – Principality Stadium

“If you look at the championship over the last couple of years, there have been two significant away wins – one was England against Wales in Cardiff last year, and the other one was the opening game this season when Ireland beat France in Paris.

“You look at that, and it is the difference between winning the championship and finishing third or fourth.

“It would be massive for us (to finish second). I felt all along going into this competition we could do well in the Six Nations.

“If you look at our record over the last 10 years against France, it has been pretty good. For us, it is a matter of working that forward pack, keeping the ball on the park, working through lots of phases and taking the legs from them.

Warren Gatland File Photo

“We know it will be a tough game, but we have got to be prepared to go through a little bit of pain in terms of keeping the pressure on them and wear their forward pack down.

“I think they (France) have played well all competition. They played well against Ireland in their first game, the first 40-50 minutes against Scotland, and they were outstanding against England last weekend.

“It’s going to be a close encounter and a very physical game.”

Gatland, meanwhile, said he has spoken with Liam Williams, who was yellow-carded against Italy for a dangerous tackle, and then permanently replaced by Halfpenny.

Wales v Italy – NatWest 6 Nations – Principality Stadium

“It’s not about giving him a clip around the ear and stuff,” Gatland added. “It is just reminding him of what makes him a good player.

“You want that emotion in his game, and it’s just being able to handle that every now and then.

“We have had a chat about that. It wasn’t a long chat, and once you have that you don’t bring it up again and talk about it.”

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