Rowntree: It's hard to dislike Wales


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The Independent Online

If England are mounting a charm offensive ahead of this weekend's Six Nations meeting with Wales – and they spent much of yesterday sending what amounted to kissograms across the Severn Bridge – it makes a welcome change from being plain offensive, as they were at the World Cup last autumn. All the same, it must be unnerving for those red-rose supporters who will use events at Twickenham as a measure of the national team's progress under the caretaker regime of Stuart Lancaster and Co.

One of that company, the forwards coach Graham Rowntree, was so complimentary in his analysis of the visitors that he ran the risk of a lifetime ban from the Front Row Union – and, more painfully still, from the Leicester club, where no forward, present or past, is permitted to be nice about anyone.

"Wales are the form team," Rowntree (right) said, with feeling. "They're playing well, aren't they? They're playing the complete game and we'll have to subdue them as a whole unit, because they have no area of weakness. They're good guys, too. I find it hard to dislike this Welsh team, though I'm doing my best."

Was this not over-egging the pudding just a touch? After all, England's recent win-loss record is rather better than the Welsh version, no matter how much of a punch Mike Phillips, Rhys Priestland, George North and the rest are packing behind the red-shirted scrum.

Twelve victories in 15 outings since the turn of last year, compared with 11 from 18? Statistics do not always tell the full story, this being a case in point, but only the terminally innumerate could argue that Wales are tripping the light fantastic while their opponents often appear to be tripping over their own feet.

Rowntree did not buy the argument, even so. "You have to give Wales respect," he insisted. "They're fit – they have to be fit to play the way they do – and they're showing real quality from one to 15. If you give them time on the ball and let them build those waves of possession..."

England will name their starting line-up tomorrow.