Jenkins: Wales still confident
Senior statesman Gethin Jenkins has backed reigning RBS 6 Nations champions Wales to recover from their Dublin debacle and retrieve a campaign that is hovering on the brink.
Victory over unbeaten Millennium Stadium visitors France on Friday night would put Wales back in the title mix and revive hopes of achieving Six Nations silverware for an unprecedented third successive season.
But if France claim a sixth win from eight Six Nations starts in Cardiff, then Wales will be staring at mid-table mediocrity.
This week's build-up has been dominated by Wales coach Warren Gatland delivering a no-nonsense reminder to his players about the standards required.
Three Six Nations titles and two Grand Slams since Gatland took charge for the 2008 season underline how he is not used to failure in European rugby's blue riband tournament.
Star scrum-half Mike Phillips paid the price for Wales' 26-3 drubbing against Ireland a fortnight ago by being axed in favour of Rhys Webb - a Test rookie in comparison - with Gatland warning that international careers will be on the line should there be any further Six Nations no-shows.
Triple Grand Slam-winner Jenkins will pack down for his 103rd cap on Friday - one short of equalling Stephen Jones' Wales record - and he knows what is required.
"There are a lot of words being said, but we just need to get out there and perform now. There are a lot of boys upset with the way we performed (against Ireland), and we know we can do better," Cardiff Blues prop Jenkins said.
"The senior boys are probably the ones under the most pressure. They know that. We all know we need to do better.
"We (the senior men) are the ones leading the team, we are the ones who drive the standards, who drive training, and when things go wrong the pressure comes on to us because we are the ones leading it. You wouldn't have it any other way.
"I don't think this team is used to losing too many games, especially in the Six Nations the last few years.
"There is still a lot of confidence in the players we've got, it is just a case of getting back out on that field and proving ourselves. We are at home, there will be a big atmosphere, and we need to show what we are about.
"We've obviously had a good look at ourselves, and this week has been about building again. We are still in the tournament, and we have still got to aim for four out of five wins."
Wales' preparations this week included their regular opposed training session with the Wales Under-20s, and Jenkins has observed a greater edge and purpose, adding: "We have been a lot sharper.
"There has been much more of an edge there this week. We had a good run-out against the under-20s on Tuesday. It was quite physical. Everyone is on the button, and everyone has got an edge and knows we need to turn up on Friday.
"Perhaps we let our standards slip a little for that Ireland week. Everything is under the microscope when you lose a game, but we know the things we have to knuckle down on and the things we have to improve on."
Webb for Phillips apart, Gatland has also recalled fit-again lock Luke Charteris, while 37 times-capped wing George North makes his first start as a Test centre after Scott Williams, Jonathan Davies and Ashley Beck were all unavailable due to injuries.
North's battle opposite French midfield powerhouse Mathieu Bastareaud promises to have a major bearing on Friday's outcome, and he has been backed to make his mark by regular wing partner Alex Cuthbert.
"It shows George's versatility, just popping into number 13 in such a big game as this," Cuthbert said.
"I think he is going to cause havoc at 13. He'll cause a lot of defenders to come in on him, and hopefully that will give me and Liam (Williams) extra space.
"A lot of people have been writing us off this week, but we've been concentrating on ourselves and nothing outside.
"When you play one bad game you work twice as hard to get it right. You want to win - I hate losing - and hopefully that will be the last time for a long time with Wales.
"You know as a player if you are not playing well and stepping up to the plate that there will be consequences. We all know international rugby is quite ruthless in every sense.
"But for a big game like this we have a team full of players who have stepped up to prove themselves on big stages over the past couple of years. There will be no excuses."