New arrival Luke loving life in France
WALES'S dejected players lifted their heads for the first time in two days — albeit to talk to the squad's tallest player, Luke Charteris, fresh in from Perpignan.
The 6ft 9in second row could hardly have timed his arrival better, with Alun Wyn Jones having picked up an injury.
He and Lloyd Peers made up a small band of reinforcements after the loss against Argentina. Ospreys youngster Peers is to provide training cover for Jones, while Charteris is here for the rest of the series, courtesy of an agreement with Perpignan whereby he would face Biarritz last weekend and play for Wales against Australia on December 1, a match that falls outside the IRB's Test window.
If ever Wales needed the lift a fresh face brings, it is this week, with the 26-12 reverse in the opening game of the autumn threatening to set the tone for the entire series, with a tricky encounter against Samoa on Friday and games against New Zealand and Australia to follow.
Charteris had no explaining to do yesterday, having been 550 miles away from the scene of the crime last Saturday, playing for his club in the Top 14.
Instead, he was keen to give his take on how playing abroad had improved his game — and how much he was relishing it. Good news for the Wales coaches, then, and not bad news for the French tourist board, either.
"I'm enjoying myself over there," he said. "The rugby is brilliant and so is the lifestyle.
"The people are so friendly, it is such a great place and the weather is outstanding. When I left Perpignan last weekend, I was still wearing shorts and T-shirt in the middle of November.
"It's about little things like that. When you've been living Wales for so long, it's a nice change.
"The weather allows for a different lifestyle."
Charteris starred for Wales at the World Cup 13 months ago, putting together a string of superb displays, not least in the first half against Ireland in the quarter-final, when he notched up 14 tackles before leaving the fray injured.
It was career-best stuff from the Llandeilo product, the best he had played as a professional.
But he reckons the move to France has helped him kick on.
"I feel I have I have improved as a player over the past four months," he said.
"My confidence is high, playing every week in a good team in a tough league.
"My ball skills, ball-handling and offloading have all improved, which is great because that's how I like to play.
"The key for me is I've been able to put a good string of games together.
"I'm just having a good time."
Let's hope that continues against Samoa on Friday evening, though the islanders' penchant for bone-crunching tackling might have to be factored into any forecasts on that score.
What Wales don't want to do is become involved in a run-around that leaves their players targets for some of the hardest hitters in world rugby.
"We're expecting typical Samoa," said Ian Evans.
"They have great players in the loose, so we have to avoid falling into the trap of playing an open game.
"We have to play controlled rugby, make sure we stick to our game-plan and not get carried away.
"We know what you get from them physically and in particular from their defence.
"They are renowned for their physicality, so it's up to us to take that aspect away from them.
"It's about staying one step ahead in our attacking sets, knowing what we are going to do and then doing it, rather than giving them time to line you up and put in hits that could leave you in hospital for a couple of weeks.
"They are aggressive and they pride themselves on tackling hard.
"That's why they have such respect in the game. But the key is getting our own game right."
Meanwhile, the search for answers continues after Argentina, with Shaun Edwards being asked whether Wales had missed Warren Gatland.
"He played a full part in the preparation and he spoke to Rob Howley every day over selection," said Edwards.
"I think Gats is probably the best coach in the world, so we are lucky to have him in Wales.
"Did we miss him last weekend? Given that he had been involved in the preparation then I would have to say no.
"But we would miss him if he left Wales, because he is one of the premier coaches in world rugby."