Leigh Halfpenny is adamant Wales are back on track and heading in the right direction towards this year’s RBS 6 Nations Championship. Despite a lack-lustre first half performance against Ireland last week, Wales managed to regroup and emerge victorious from a scrappy affair in Paris.
The defending champions triumphed over the French 16-6 after 11 points from the boot of Halfpenny and a late George North try condemned Les Blues to their second defeat in as many games. They will now look forward to heading to Murrayfield and the Stadio Olimpico as favourites for the two matches, and despite a poor run of eight games without a win which came to an end on Saturday, Wales may very well face a showdown with England come March 16th in Cardiff.
“The confidence we will get from this win will be immense,” said Halfpenny. “We can concentrate now on what we set out to do from the start, which is to retain the title. We knew this game was key. It was my third time in Paris, and I know how difficult it is to get a win there, but the boys dug deep and had that hunger and desperation to win.”
It has been a long year for a Welsh side that hasn’t tasted victory since the Grand Slam was secured last March – again against France – that is now led by interim head coach Rob Howley, due to head coach Warren Gatland’s Lions responsibilities. For Howley, it is his first victory since taking the reins, and the win will have relieved the mounting pressure that will have undoubtedly been growing on his shoulders.
“I am really chuffed for Rob (Howley) and the coaches,” continued the Cardiff Blues full-back. “They gave us everything, all the information we need, then it is up to the guys on the field to put in a performance, and that’s what we did. When you go to France and win, it is special.”
Mike Phillips agreed that their performances of late have not been good enough, but the victory on Saturday is no less than they deserve for the effort they put in. He said: “We are a far better team than we have been showing, and it was fortunate we had another game so quickly after the previous Saturday to put things right.
“We were adamant we were going to do well in the first 20 minutes and not make another bad start. The body language of the French told us we were doing well. They were blowing and had their hands on their knees, and we knew if we could keep the tempo up we would take the sting out of their attack, even though we were blowing ourselves at times.”
Ultimately, it is a sense of relief flowing around the Wales camp this week, and with this monkey off their shoulders, they can look to get back to their title defence. “When you are in a losing team, you have got to expect criticism a little bit, but we knew we weren’t far off turning it around,” explained the scrum-half. “It’s a tough world, and in rugby one minute you are the hero and the next you’re rubbish, but you have got to be strong.”