Wales make eight changes as Howley listens to critics
THE ship in danger of sinking, Wales have called a fresh captain on to the deck and changed more than half the crew in an attempt to navigate their way to calmer waters.
No-one has been flogged, but there are eight alterations for the game with Samoa tomorrow evening, the most significant of which sees Sam Warburton dropped to the bench.
Justin Tipuric replaces him at No. 7, with Ryan Jones taking over as captain for the 29th time, so breaking Ieuan Evans's record, as Rob Howley places his trust in the Ospreys, who supply seven players to the starting XV for the game at the Millennium Stadium.
As well as Jones and Tipuric, the Pro12 champions are represented by Ashley Beck, Dan Biggar, Richard Hibbard, Aaron Jarvis and Ian Evans.
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Drastic measures were called for after last weekend's defeat by Argentina, and there has been a response, with Howley seemingly having taken on board the message that form matters.
He could hardly have done much else.
So poor were Wales against the Pumas that intransigence wasn't an option even for a team management who have hardly made a habit of bending to public opinion over the years.
Scott Williams, Rhys Priestland, Tavis Knoyle, Gethin Jenkins and Warburton all find themselves left out after the 26-12 reverse of five days ago, along with the injured Matthew Rees, Alun Wyn Jones and Josh Turnbull.
Beck, Biggar, Mike Phillips, Paul James, Hibbard, Bradley Davies, Ryan Jones and Tipuric come into the starting XV.
The selection is significant as it suggests a change of thinking by the Wales management, whose 11th commandment has long appeared to be Thou Shalt Not Take Into Account Regional Form.
Always, the emphasis has seemed to be on how players have previously performed in the red jersey, with the hope being that joining the national set-up would flick a switch on form.
But such thinking didn't work against the Pumas.
Wales were woeful: no line-breaks, no invention, no menace; 20 tackles were missed, countless high balls were conceded to Argentina and Howley's team won only three out of seven scrums on their own feed.
Under such circumstances, doing nothing wasn't an option.
For Tipuric it is a gilt-edged opportunity to show why he should play against the All Blacks a week on Saturday.
The pressure had built on Howley to include him after the game with Argentina, the tail end of which saw the Trebanos product come off the bench and do something that Warburton had failed to do in the 70 minutes he was on the field — achieve a turnover.
Tipuric has had a lobby urging his inclusion in the starting line-up ever since he came on as a sub and made an impact in the Six Nations win over Ireland in Dublin last season.
Since last weekend, there here have been rumours that even the secretary of the Sam Warburton Appreciation Society had been thinking of organising a protest march calling for Tipuric's inclusion against Samoa.
That said, he will need the Welsh front five to perform if he is to be seen at his best.
That has been part of the problem for Warburton, an outstanding player who has suffered from playing behind packs that have stubbornly refused to deliver, particularly at regional level. He has taken a lot of criticism but deserves credit for the way he handled himself, never once moaning.
But this weekend it is up to Tipuric to take up the challenge.
And the same goes for Biggar and Hibbard, two other players who have been near the top of Welsh rugby's form chart this term.
The challenge for Biggar will be to cope psychologically with not being the main goal-kicker. It is a hugely important part of his game, something that bolsters his confidence, but with Leigh Halfpenny around the Osprey will probably have to keep his powder dry.
Hibbard? Wales need someone to share the ball-carrying load with Toby Faletau, and the former Swansea man fits the bill. Strong, powerful and not easily pushed around, a bit like Wales need to be against Samoa.
WALES: L. Halfpenny; A. Cuthbert, A. Beck, J. Roberts, G. North; D Biggar, M. Phillips; P. James, R. Hibbard, A. Jarvis, B. Davies, Ian Evans, R. Jones (capt), J. Tipuric, T. Faletau. Reps: K. Owens, G. Jenkins, S. Andrews, L. Charteris, S. Warburton, T. Knoyle, R. Priestland, Scott Williams.
SAMOA: F. Autagavaia; P. Perez, G. Pisi, P. Williams, D. Lemi (capt); T. Pisi, K. Fotuali’i; S. Taulafo, O. Avei, C. Johnston, D. Leo, T. Paulo, O. Treviranus, T. Tuifua, M. Fa’asavalu. Reps: T. Paulo, V. Afatia, J. Johnston, TBA, T. Fomai, J. Su’a, J. Leota, R. Lilomaiava.