Shaun Edwards urges Wales to repeat defensive heroics against France
WALES will face Italy at Stadio Olimpico tomorrow (2.30pm GMT) with Shaun Edwards challenging his players to prove themselves the most miserly team in the Six Nations — again.
Three tries in 45 minutes against Ireland on the opening weekend of the championship added up to arguably the darkest period the Welsh rearguard has endured since Edwards took over as defence coach in 2008.
But against France they were back to their stingiest, not allowing the French a single try and restricting them to just two penalties all game.
The effort delighted Edwards, under whom Wales conceded only two touchdowns during the entire 2008 championship, and he is calling for the padlocks to stay in place for the rest of this campaign.
"Have I set any targets for the players? I would like us to be the team that concedes the fewest tries," said Edwards.
"If we can do that it would be the third time in six years and that would please me.
"It's a big ask because we still have some very good sides to play.
"But it's a target I have set myself and the boys."
Wales's blitz defence system came in for criticism after Ireland shredded it so devastatingly at the Millennium Stadium. But in Paris it suffocated the French, with would-be attackers repeatedly denied space and knocked back in the tackle.
Freddie Michalak, in particular, had no answer, the fly-half hurried into a series of errors that ruined home attempts to apply pressure.
"The best person to ask if a blitz defence works or not is the opposition fly-half," said Edwards.
"Give Freddie Michalak a call and ask him how he found our rush system in Paris. We did concede six points from two scrum penalties but not to concede one point outside of that is a special effort — amazing, really.
"If we can repeat that in Italy I would be delighted."
At the forefront of the Welsh defensive effort in this Six Nations has been Toby Faletau, the Dragon putting in 22 tackles in the first two matches, an outstanding effort that has been complemented by 29 ball carries, more than anyone else in the championship.
He is producing the form of a Test Lion, but hell will ice over before Faletau would ever acknowledge as much.
The modest Dragon said: "Everybody is thinking about the Lions but the Six Nations is our job right now. Italy is our next game so we are just getting ready for that.
"My own form? There are areas to work on. I don't pay too much notice of stats on carries. They are just stats. It could be just one-metre carries or just picking the ball up — that's a carry I guess.
"But it's going okay for me and the team. I'm enjoying my rugby."