Rees wants fast start to banish autumn woe
ROB Howley boasts an impressive CV. As a player, he captained his country and won the Heineken Cup and, as a coach, he is currently in charge of Wales. Now it seems he might also be a meteorologist.
Wales's players must have thought they had been given a reprieve when Howley, their interim boss, decided not to stage their Six Nations preparations at the hellish training camp in Poland they have famously used for previous campaigns.
No more brutal sessions on the barren, snow-flecked Eastern European terrain, they must have thought. No more bone-chilling turns in the cryotherapy chambers.
But it seems Howley's decision not to fly the squad out to Spala was merely a cost-saving measure, for he appears to have foreseen how the January snow would turn their training base at the Vale of Glamorgan hotel into an arctic dystopia.
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Matthew Rees, the 60-cap hooker who has endured some of those grisly trips to Poland, grins knowingly as he steps in from the cold to discuss Wales's hopes for the Six Nations.
Howley is in temporary charge of the side with head coach Warren Gatland away on British Lions duty, and one gets the impression that the burly New Zealander would be rubbing his hands with glee at the sight of the Vale's Siberian makeover.
The shivering players may not view the South Walian snow with quite as much enthusiasm, but Rees is glad to have a coach as authoritative as Howley.
"Rob tells you straight," he says. "I think that comes from what he's picked up off Warren.
"He's got huge respect from all the players and the coaches. I think he's got the same strengths as Warren, and it's great for us to have him."
There is a lightness of spirit around the Wales camp at the moment, the result of an influx of five uncapped players and the hope that comes with the start of a new campaign.
It is in stark contrast to the gloom which hung over Welsh rugby during the autumn, with four successive defeats to Argentina, Samoa, New Zealand and Australia extending their winless run to seven games.
That sense of deep introspection and despondency appears to have lifted, and Rees is eager for Wales to start afresh in the Six Nations.
"We've got to put the autumn to one side," he says. "The most important thing is that we learn from the autumn and start with a clean slate.
"This is the Six Nations and it's a different competition. We won it last year and everyone will be coming at us, but we've got a great squad.
"We've got a lot of new faces in the squad, so it's a different squad to last year. It's a fresh challenge and it's a good start for us to be playing Ireland first up."
As defending champions, Wales will begin the Six Nations with more confidence than most sides who have not won against another Test playing country for 10 months.
And Rees, who has won two Grand Slams during his international career, knows how important it will be for Howley's men to begin the tournament with a win against Ireland on February 2. "We've got take the positives from the last Six Nations," he adds.
"We know how disappointed we were in the autumn, but we also know how close we were to getting a result against Australia.
"That's all in the past now and we've got to learn from that. We know we're in for a tough Six Nations, playing the first game at home and then three away.
"We know the first game is the most important because of the way it can build up momentum for the rest of the campaign.
"We've got three away games and two at home, so it's very important for us to have that first game at home. It's a massive game."