By Rob Cole
Warren Gatland will read the riot act to Liam Williams this week – but won’t drop the Saracens and British & Irish Lions full-back for the final game of the Six Nations against France this weekend.
With Wales shooting for second place in the championship, Gatland knows there can be no margin for error against a power-packed French side that put England in their place in Paris on Saturday.
Williams made a couple of first-half errors in the 38-14 win over Italy on Sunday and then picked up a yellow card for a head-high tackle on an Italian player when he was over his own line.
Gatland expressed his displeasure by sending on Leigh Halfpenny at the end of the sin-bin period.
With Halfpenny steady as a rock at No.15, and George North back to his try-scoring best form to partner Steff Evans on the wings, Williams’ place looked under threat without his problems at the weekend.
Gatland didn’t send Williams back on to ensure he didn’t pick up a red card. If he loses out on a starting place, though, it will be for reasons of selection and not as a disciplinary measure or worries over more cards.
Back in 2014 he picked up a red cards for the Scarlets against Cardiff Blues and eight weeks later was lucky not to get another when his illegal, shoulder-charge tackle on Springbok wing Cornal Hendricks led to a match-winning penalty try for South Africa in Nelspruit.
“It is about Liam controlling that emotion. In the first half things didn’t go as well as he would have liked, there were a couple of errors and you could see him getting frustrated,” said Gatland.
“He gave away what I thought was a penalty that did not need to be given away at the breakdown. Then there was the tackle at the end.
“I understand what he was trying to do, he was trying to hit him as hard as he could, but there was just a bit of frustration in it. If he had made that tackle a bit lower there was no problem, but he caught him high and it could possibly have been a red card.
“It’s just about getting a balance. I’ve sat him down before, and it’s not a major issue, because I don’t want him to lose that emotion.
“That’s what makes him as a good as he is – he is physical, he has got great work rate, he has great energy and you don’t want to take those things away from him. But when things aren’t quite going his way he needs to keep control and keep calm.”
Gatland’s side picked up the bonus-point win they needed to move into second place behind championship winners Ireland and give themselves every chance of ending up as runners-up having been one off the bottom last year.
Having made 10 changes for the game against Italy, Gatland can now bring back seven players who enjoyed a weekend off for the game against France. Up front he has skipper Alun Wyn Jones, tight head prop Samson Lee and the back row trio of Aaron Shingler, Ross Moriarty and Josh Navidi to recall, while outside-half Dan Biggar and centre Scott Williams are available behind the scrum.
“I think France will be good and their defence looks strong at the moment. It was good in the first game against Ireland, and they were unlucky not to win that one, and then they started well against Scotland.
“It is going to be a tough game for us. We are pretty happy with the record we have had against France in the past and we know there is an opportunity for us to finish second in the championship, which is pretty important for us.”
“I hope they were partying all night in Paris after that win over England, they deserved it. They have had a lot of things that have gone against them and even had to regroup in this championship with some players moving out of the squad.
“You have to take your hat off to Jacques Brunel in terms of the discipline he has brought into the squad. They played with discipline against England, they were really direct in the way they played and deserved to win the match.”