Scotland vs Wales: Rhys Webb knows Wales must stand up to the task

Wales are looking to bounce back from their opening Six Nations defeat to England

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The Independent Online

It was no surprise to hear from Wales’s scrum-half Rhys Webb that his team’s training this past week has concentrated on picking themselves off the ground. The nine days since the chastening loss to England in Cardiff have brought little that has been pleasant – from the “panicky” reaction of the public, as the former captain Gareth Thomas described it, to the concussion-related withdrawals of George North and Samson Lee from today’s match away to Scotland.

But there was a literal sense to Webb’s words, too, which the Welsh hope will become apparent in their performance at Murrayfield. “Some of the boys were probably a bit lazy [against England], not getting up off the floor quick enough,” said Webb, whose try in that match gave him 12 for the season, the most in Europe by a player in his position. “We had six or seven forwards on the deck and international rugby is all about numbers on your feet and trying to create something. I just felt we didn’t have anything to work with and every time we got the ball we seemed to be trying to get out of danger.”

If “lazy” comes across as a sharp way to describe the efforts of some unnamed team-mates, Webb did not excuse himself from the finger-pointing. He readily volunteered his own sliced box-kick into touch at the start of the second half as giving England an unintended line-out that led at length to the try by Jonathan Joseph and signalled the beginning of Wales’s end. Webb knew things were going awry when “the smallest guy on the pitch” – England’s fly-half George Ford – was able to disrupt a Wales ruck. And from a half-time lead of eight points – which might have been more if Leigh Halfpenny hadn’t uncharacteristically missed a straightforward penalty – the fretful Friday night ended with Wales beaten 21-16.

 

On the upside, Scotland are their favourite opponents of recent times. Wales are aiming for a record-breaking eighth successive victory in the fixture (beating the seven of 1908-14), and have won 11 of the 12 meetings since August 2003, by an average score of 29-14, with a whopping 37 tries to 10.

And Webb is not the type to dwell on a defeat. There must have been a dog-walker or two who saw him last weekend: out on his quad bike, clearing his head by zooming up and down the sand dunes of Merthyr Mawr that sprawl between his native Bridgend and the south Glamorgan coast. He went to watch his old club, Bridgend Athletic, too, enjoying a win over Tata Steel.

“I think a lot of the boys stayed in the hotel, they didn’t want to go out,” said Webb. “I am different. I didn’t want to keep myself in the house, I wanted to get out, to take it on the chin. I had a couple of comments asking ‘what happened?’ but there must have been someone happy – if they put  a bet on me to be first try scorer! We know we can do better and that’s what we are going to do. Training has been very sharp this week; a bit of an extra edge.”

It would be a surprise if the Scotland pack are able to repeat England’s hard driving that wounded the Welsh particularly in the first 25 minutes of the second half. Rob Howley, the Wales attack coach, said he could not remember his team spending so long outside an opposition 22, and he has been in that job for seven years.

But while the brio of North’s stand-in Liam Williams should mean no reduction of threat from the wings, there are legitimate rumblings over the efficacy of the tight forwards. And a fine line between hailing the loosehead prop Gethin Jenkins for moving to within one Championship appearance of Martyn Williams’ Wales record of 51 to wondering whether the demands of international rugby might be getting too much for the 34-year-old who has been subbed off in only 30 of his 79 Test starts.

Lee’s place on the right side of the scrum has been taken by Webb’s Ospreys team-mate Aaron Jarvis, with Scott Andrews on the bench. Neither came close to seriously rivalling the recently retired Adam Jones for his place while the shaggy-haired No.3 was in his pomp.

“For us, it is about not being afraid to shift it and have a go,” said Webb. “The Welsh public probably think we are no good any more but we’ll be back.”

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