Six Nations: Welsh dragons fired up for England decider
Victory over Scots gives Wales chance to win Six Nations in Cardiff and deny Lancaster's men a Grand Slam
Sunday 10 March 2013
Rob Howley urged his players to produce one of the greatest games of their lives in next weekend's Six Nations decider against England in Cardiff.
If Stuart Lancaster's unbeaten side beat Italy at Twickenham today they will be seeking their first Grand Slam since 2003, but Wales can also retain their title next Saturday if they secure a large-enough victory. "It's one of the biggest games our players and probably our coaches will be involved in," proclaimed Rob Howley, Wales's interim head coach.
"If England do what we expect them to do tomorrow, they'll be coming to our stadium, our supporters, trying to win the Slam. We're just looking forward to preparing this week for a mammoth game."
The Welsh dragon was not exactly breathing fire in Edinburgh yesterday but a Richard Hibbard try and 23 points from the boot of Leigh Halfpenny added up to more than enough to see off Scotland by a margin of 28-18 for their third win of the tournament.
The Scottish pack were continually penalised at scrum-engagement time by the South African referee, Craig Joubert, and the destiny of the title could come down to points difference. As the table stands, England are top by virtue of their advantage in that department: plus 36 to plus 29. That gives them a seven-point edge going into today's Test at Twickenham.
"Look, everyone's presuming England are going to beat Italy," said Scott Johnson, the former Wales coach now in temporary charge of the Scots. "They can't get ahead of themselves but they're not silly. They'll realise they have to do the hard yards first against Italy.
"I'll be interested to see how England go and what the points difference is afterwards . If it comes down to the wire a little bit this Welsh side could cause them trouble at home. I like this Welsh side. There's a toughness and a resilience about them.
"They've got a nice balance. They can grind out a game. I'm not sure they can catch England if they have to chase a lot of points. I'm not sure there's enough there to do that. But if it goes down to the wire and it's close I think with home advantage Wales will be hard to beat.
"It's a good finale to the tournament. I just wish we were part of it. It'll be a quality game. It'll go a long way to determining a lot of positions on the Lions team. There will be a lot at stake." There will that. And for Wales, it will be back to the green, green grass of home after completing a run of five wins on the road in the championship for the first time in their history.
Just who will lead them out remains to be seen. Ryan Jones suffered a damaged shoulder yesterday. "We're going to medically assess him over the next 24 hours and we'll make a judgement from there," Howley said.
His judgement in restoring the former captain Sam Warburton to the starting line-up yesterday proved spot on, with Wales's Grand Slam skipper of 12 months ago producing a magnificent seven of a performance at openside flanker. "I thought Sam was world class," Howley said. "In our eyes he's always been outstanding. I'm just delighted for him that he's gone out and answered the people who were questioning him.
"In attack and defence he was outstanding. He showed world-class qualities, pressure on the ball and vital turnovers.
"He's had a tough time the last five or six weeks. So it's good to see him enjoying his rugby. I thought our pack was outstanding. In terms of their ball-carrying and defensive qualities we looked fairly strong. That gave us the platform."
There was just a call from Howley to improve focus. "We lacked discipline at time. We need to take that on board because England next week is a pretty important game."
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