Rob Howley confident that Dan Biggar can be better in Wales' sacred No 10 role
Coach calls for patience as outside-half admits to feeling the pressure before Six Nations debut
Thursday 31 January 2013
There was a good deal for Rob Howley to address today, after naming the home starting XV for the opening 2013 Six Nations fixture in Cardiff on Saturday lunchtime: the reinstallation of the 2009 Lions front row now that Adam Jones is back in one piece; the selection of the uncapped Andrew Coombs, a former software salesman and until recently flanker, to plug one of the second-row gaps; the vote in confidence in the captain, Sam Warburton, who retains the open-side flanker jersey ahead of the in-form Justin Tipuric. Still, above all, as he prepared for the challenge of Ireland and the defence of the championship trophy, Wales' interim head coach was keeping his eye on the Biggar picture.
As a veteran of 69 caps for Wales in the No 9 jersey, Howley is well positioned to appreciate the pressure placed upon those playing alongside in the hallowed No 10 jersey. This time last year, on the back of a wonderful World Cup, Rhys Priestland was being hailed as the closest thing to Dan Carter outside of New Zealand and proceeded to show his class as Wales swept to the Six Nations title in Grand Slam style. In the autumn, as the Slammers slumped to a run of seven successive defeats and his form nosedived, the Scarlets fly-half became a target for abuse on Twitter and consulted a sports psychologist in an attempt to rebuild his confidence.
Now that Priestland is out of the Six Nations picture because of a snapped Achilles' heel, Howley has turned to Dan Biggar to spark the back line that produced the fireworks in last year's championship. The Ospreys outside-half has made 11 appearances for his country but has never played in the Six Nations before. His assured form for his region has won him the nod ahead of James Hook but Howley is wary of the 23-year-old suffering under the weight of the red No 10 jersey and all of the expectation that comes with following in the studmarks of Barry John, Phil Bennett and Co.
"It is important that Dan gets an opportunity, but please can you keep the pressure off him?" Howley said, appealing to the media assembled for Wales' team announcement. "It is important he is given the chance to develop.
"It's a big game for Dan. Obviously, he understands that, but our Welsh culture and the way we talk about our 10s, it is important that Dan is given an opportunity. He will certainly be given a chance by the Wales management."
He will also get the chance to concentrate fully on his orchestrating duties, with Leigh Halfpenny retaining place-kicking duties.
Asked whether he liked the media attention that came with the Welsh No 10 role, Biggar smiled and confessed: "When it's going well, yes... When it's not, no."
After pause for proper consideration, he continued: "It's part of the job title. It's a difficult position to be in. There's a lot of pressure and I could give you the routine of, 'You just get on with it and you don't pay any attention.' But, of course you do.
"You are aware of the Welsh 10 jersey and the expectation around it. As a player, when your team is playing well, it's a great position to be in but when things are not going quite as well as you would perhaps have liked, that's when you come under scrutiny a bit.
"As a 10, especially in Wales, that's part and parcel of the job. You have to take it as it comes but you also have to enjoy the high bits as well, when you are playing well and winning as a team.
"I don't think there is any hiding the fact that my international career has been a little bit stop-start. I hope to get it going this weekend."
Coombs' hard drive finally pays off
Andrew Coombs captained Wales at Under-18 level but could have been excused for thinking his hopes of becoming a senior international had passed when injuries curtailed his time as a development player with the Dragons and he ended up playing club rugby for Newport while earning a living as a computer software salesman.
On Saturday, though, the 28-year-old will run out at the Millennium Stadium in a Wales shirt, his form as a re-employed Dragon and a convert from flanker having earned him a place in the second row. "The way I look at it is that I've come through the right path, albeit a little late," Coombs said.
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