Wales rugby: Rob Howley keeps faith with Paris heroes
ROB Howley has stuck with the players who stopped the rot for Wales in Paris, with the acting national coach declaring he had decided to reward the character and effort of those who won at Stade de France.
There had been speculation that Warren Gatland might need to be consulted about any decision to leave out skipper Sam Warburton, as such a move would affect Wales beyond the Six Nations.
But Howley surprised everyone yesterday with an early team announcement for the Six Nations game with Italy a week on Saturday.
Ryan Jones continues as captain, while Justin Tipuric will play at openside flanker as Howley looks to Wales to reproduce the defiance they showed in the French capital.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Sunday, June 30 2013
Andrew Coombs holds his place at lock, despite the return to fitness of Alun Wyn Jones.
“We talked about the determination, the attitude and the resilience the players showed in Paris,” said Howley.
“That’s what you reward a side for.
“It isn’t easy to go out and win in France, but these players managed it.
“We have told the players that the same 15 will start against Italy. I think it’s important from a coaching perspective that we did that.”
It would have been hard for Howley to justify any other selection after the side led by Ryan Jones halted Wales’s losing run at eight.
It would almost have been inconceivable that Jones could be returned to the ranks for the next game after the way he led from the front in France.
“He was outstanding in terms of his leadership,” acknowledged Howley.
“As a just reward, he will captain the side against Italy.”
Where that leaves Warburton is with work to do if he is to reclaim his place in the side and the armband.
The Blues player was ruled out of the France game with a stinger injury which has yet to clear up fully, but in making an early selection call Howley has ended the speculation about who would skipper the team and who would play at openside.
“Sam was better over the weekend. He is still feeling the stinger to some extent but I just wanted to get clarity and it’s important in terms of our preparation,” said Howley.
“The team comes first and that preparation comes first. What I didn’t want to do is wait on medical opinions and the way the team went on the weekend, they deserve to start again.”
Alun Wyn Jones has been recalled to the squad after making his return from a long-term shoulder injury, while Dan Lydiate is set to be back next month.
“It’s great to have Alun Wyn back,” said Howley.
“He will bring experience.
“It’s a great fillip to have him in, another senior player coming back to fitness, increasing our options.
“Dan is probably looking at England. He’s ahead of schedule and there will be a decision we have to make on whether it’s one game or two games for him.”
The full 23-man squad will be formally announced next Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Warren Gatland has warned of the dangers of selecting too many players for the Lions tour of Australia this summer.
He said: “If they do well in the Six Nations, there will be a reasonable contingent of English players. But that brings a certain element of — how do I say it — other pressures that come with selecting a lot of English players.
“It becomes a much greater media focus from the English papers; potentially a negative focus from the Australian papers. And English players are targeted by other countries. They are not always the most popular with other countries because of the history. People like having a pop at them.”
He added: “It’s just being aware of potential issues that may arise.
We all know what happened with England at the World Cup and the circus that was created.”