Howley plans for scrum attack

Date published: January 24 2013

Wales interim head coach Rob Howley has backed the Welsh scrum to have a “huge influence” in the upcoming Six Nations.

Wales interim head coach Rob Howley has backed the Welsh scrum to have a “huge influence” in the upcoming Six Nations.

Howley was without Lions prop Adam Jones and Exeter Chiefs prop Craig Mitchell during the November Internationals, but believes their return and the experience of his front row could hand his side a major advantage.

“We have gone through a November series with injuries to key personnel during the opening 20-25 minutes, which is going to have an influence if your player base isn't large compared to other nations,” said Howley.

“We see it as opportunity to give players who are young and talented – the likes of James King and Andrew Coombs – but it's also good to welcome back the likes of Craig Mitchell and Adam Jones, meaning there's a good level of balance and experience in our front-row which can be a focal part of our Six Nations campaign.

“We missed Adam during the November internationals. He's probably one of the best tightheads in world rugby and from what I've seen of the scrum, it will have a huge influence. It's great to have strength in depth in that area.”

One of those young and talented players is Eli Walker, with Howley highlighting his differing abilites compared to other giant Welsh wingers Alex Cuthbert and George North.

“Over the last two years we have given young talent the opportunity, with Leigh Halfpenny and George North to name just two players involved. Eli Walker is an extremely gifted player,” added Howley.

“With his ability to beat players on the inside or outside, many people will describe him as Shane Williams-esque, but I also think that he is comfortable on the ball, works hard coming in off the wing. George and Alex Cuthbert are two physical wings and Eli offers something different.”

Wales captain Sam Warburton admitted that he was happy to play anywhere across the back-row given the good form of Ospreys openside Justin Tipuric in recent weeks.

The Blues flanker also stated that despite the seven-game losing streak following the Six Nations, he took great confidence coming into the tournament as champions and insisted that Welsh rugby was not “down the pan.”

“I would be more than happy to play anywhere in the back-row with Wales,” said Warburton.

“I've covered six and eight already – when I first started I played six alongside Martyn Williams and it has worked well at the Blues with myself and Josh Navidi.

“It's a really nice feeling coming in as reigning champions and I take great confidence from that. We might not have done so well results wise since, particularly against Australia where those results could have gone our way, but in the Six Nations we won some matches by a whisker so that is the fine line in international rugby.

“The losing run was difficult. I felt we contained Australia right up until they scored in the 81st minute in our last game. I felt in control and that we played well, apart from that last minute. We have learnt from it but it's not going to effect the way we play and our confidence.

“You don't become a bad side overnight. People are talking about Welsh rugby as though it's gone down the pan, but it's easily recoverable. We might have lost seven matches in a row but some of those have been really tight with good performances.

“It has taught me that I don't like losing. When I came in as captain things were on the up, not just for myself but a lot of the squad and it has taken experienced players such as Ryan Jones to tell us that it's not all doom and gloom.”

by Ben Coles