Howley not sold on ‘champagne rugby’

Date published: March 8 2016

Wales assistant coach Rob Howley believes the team might not have achieved their recent success by playing "champagne rugby".

Howley pointed to Wales' record of three Six Nations titles in eight years along with a Rugby World Cup semi-final in 2011 as evidence of not only how much Wales have improved and been successful, but also how expectations have been raised under Warren Gatland.

Gatland's coaching staff and the Welsh players came under fire for squandering space out wide in their win over France, with many criticising both the tactics used by Wales and also their skill sets.

Adding that he believes the Welsh squad are underrated, Howley claimed that the current squad are capable of defeating any international opponent they come across.

"Our current crop of players have the ability to win every international game they go into,” Howley told reporters on Monday.

“They have huge desire, attitude and self-belief. It’s a shame that is sometimes not reflected in terms of taps on the back and getting the praise they deserve. It is disappointing and frustrating.

“The expectation over the last eight years under Warren Gatland [the Wales coach] has risen. We have that success record in the Six Nations and we are used to winning in a certain way.

“If we played champagne, Barbarians rugby, I’m not sure we would have won some of those games because it’s about putting defences under pressure and playing to your strengths.

"We know we have to have the ability to evolve when we face the likes of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, but I believe England and Wales are pushing the Six Nations to a higher level.”

Howley also discussed how much input the trimvirate of Dan Biggar, Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies have on defensive tactics and on Wales' preparations in the build-up to the blockbuster fixture at Twickenham this Saturday.

“We have a unique centre combination with Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies, and Dan Biggar has 40-plus caps. I have sat down with the three of them and asked their views of the England defence. They have a huge influence on how we prepare and play and on Saturday they will be the guys making the decisions," Howley explained.

“International rugby requires being accurate under pressure and we were not against France when we had numbers on the outside.

"Our aim is to ensure the next performance is better than the last and no stone is being left unturned.”