SHAUN Edwards has predicted a battle between two “pumped up” teams next Saturday when Wales and France look to revive their RBS 6 Nations campaigns after opening collapses.
Wales’ 30-22 defeat by Ireland was not only their eighth successive defeat, it also dropped them one place to tenth in the latest International Rugby Board world rankings.
Italy, conquerors of France yesterday, climbed above Wales as a result, with Scotland now the only Six Nations team ranked below the reigning champions. The rankings provide further evidence of Wales’ demise since leaving New Zealand less than 16 months ago as World Cup semi-finalists, then winning a third Six Nations title and Grand Slam in eight years.
Having only beaten France three times in Paris since 1975, the odds on Wales ending their worst losing run for nine years appear remote.
There is, though, some overdue positive news on the injury front, with Ospreys forwards Ryan Jones (thumb) and Richard Hibbard (shoulder) now available, while flanker Aaron Shingler (rib) is also expected to be fit. “We need to get to France with our A game for the full 80 minutes,” Wales assistant coach and defence specialist Edwards said. “If we do that, we’ve got a chance. They will be pretty pumped up for it on Saturday, but so will we.”
Despite staging an admirable second-half response from being 30-3 adrift against Ireland, Wales were ultimately punished for a dreadful opening 30 minutes at the Millennium Stadium when mistakes abounded and their dominant opponents made hay in the winter sunshine. “It just proved that this game is all about field position,” Edwards added. “In the second half, we had all the field position and we scored three tries. There were a lot of tries scored in the Six Nations at the weekend. Everyone seems to be scoring tries and everyone seems to be conceding them. Clearly, it is good for the paying public, but not too good for us defensive coaches.”
Wales’ interim head coach Rob Howley is due to name his line-up for Paris on Thursday, with the pack composition expected to come under particular scrutiny. Jones, Hibbard, Bath prop Paul James and Ospreys flanker Justin Tipuric all have powerful cases for inclusion. If openside Tipuric starts, it can be assumed that skipper Sam Warburton will either be switched to the blindside role or left out.