Jamie Roberts: Paris was a huge relief – now the shackles are off as Wales head for Rome
Millennium Eye: The last two times we have been there the games have been close
Saturday 23 February 2013
What a game of extremes rugby is: no tournament demonstrates that better than the Six Nations. Week one: hugely disappointing. Week two: hugely encouraging. The difference from week to week can be immense and after that run of games without a win you can see the impact that success in Paris has had around the camp.
Everyone has been playing that little bit more freely in training over the last week but equally everyone, players and coaches, is all too aware that it is only one win, and no matter what an emotional and tough victory it was against France there has been no complacency in our build-up to facing Italy in Rome this afternoon.
We have worked harder in the last week than we have all championship because now it is about raising the bar. What was great about our game in Paris was the intensity we brought from the very first minute, the desire to tackle hard, to get off our lines, to regenerate, to keep going from first to last – there really was a very emotional desire to get through it. We have to match that in Italy against a passionate home side who will be backed by an equally passionate home crowd – you could see in the celebrations after they beat France in Rome on the first weekend what victory means to players and supporters over here.
Italy, despite that setback against Scotland, are a much improved side and they caused France real problems. Defensively, we need to be at least on the level we were in Paris to contain the Italians. We have to match that intensity from Paris.
One consequence of that success in France (pictured) is that when you have gone eight games without a victory and then you win one it does throw the shackles off to an extent. Things snowball when you lose a lot on the bounce.
Looking back on it, maybe we became more restricted in the brand of rugby we produced on the field. Perhaps we were going out looking first and foremost not to lose rather than going out there to score tries and win.
This is about balance, though. It's so important with that win secured that we now don't go to the other extreme and try and play sevens rugby, chucking the ball all over the place. International rugby is won by doing the hard work first, making teams tackle, tiring them out and making the right decisions on the ball. Then the chances will come as the match opens up.
I was not surprised Italy beat France but then I didn't expect them to either – if that makes sense! You knew they had a chance, as they do against anyone in Rome. France went there and played the wrong brand of rugby and came unstuck. We have seen the mistakes they made and have to make sure we get our brand right. It will change over the course of the game, as the match develops. We want to go out and attack and score tries – but once the platform is there.
Italy's two performances so far have been contrasting – excellent against France, struggled in Scotland – but it is their home form we have to concentrate on. When in Rome…
The last two times we have been there the games have been close. Two years ago it was an eight-point win and in 2009 it needed a late try by Tom Shanklin to give us the win.
At home the one thing you will always get from Italy is solidity. They are a tough, physical team and will keep coming at you, keep the hits coming and play to their strengths.
They will miss Sergio Parisse – any team would – but it would be a mistake on our part to think that will weaken them. When a player like that is missing the typical response from the rest of the squad is to raise their game to make up for their main man's absence.
This is a big weekend – the game at Twickenham is set to be one of the key moments of the Championship and I'm not surprised the French have moved Wesley Fofana back to 12. He is the catalyst of everything Clermont do, their go-to man. It's going to be interesting. We still have England to play and have to go to Murrayfield, where Scotland are vastly improved and are playing some lovely rugby. It's going to be an interesting run-in, but just now there can be no thinking any further ahead than this afternoon.
I've put the books aside – for now
We arrived in Rome on Thursday evening and it was straight back to the medical books for me. I spent the whole of Wednesday, our day off, in the library too. You have to keep the studies and the rugby separate, so the books went away yesterday ahead of the captain's run and my first look at the Olympic Stadium – our last two games here were in the Stadio Flaminio – but it will be straight back to revision when we get home. It's getting more intense as the exams get closer. For any exam the pressure of time is probably the best thing for revision – it makes you get on with it. The next three, four weeks through the exams are going to be pretty hellish but once I reach the other side it will be a good feeling. Hopefully!
Jamie Roberts, Wales centre, launched Guinness Class at Twickenham stadium. For more information on how you can win a trip on a luxury private jet to an RBS Six Nations game for you and your mates, visit facebook.com/GuinnessGB
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