Williams keen to get Wales back on track

The flanker is intent on hitting the Scots hard tomorrow as debate over the Twickenham rout goes on. James Corrigan reports
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The Independent Online

Rather like all those exiled Englishmen residing in the Principality, the "positives" have been slowly revealing themselves to the Welsh these past seven days; at first a trifle tentative to dare show their face, but now - with game-time creeping up again - downright shameless in putting their hands up.

Unsurprisingly, Martyn Williams has been the raiser-in-chief. "I've come back from Twickenham before when it's been mass slatings and heads down all week," said the flanker, who only ever drops his head when a kneecap is blocking his path. "But the Welsh public have been different this time. It's funny, but as a player you get a sense on the field when you've got no chance, but it didn't feel like that, even when we were 26-13 down. We'd played reasonably well up until then and we've taken a lot of plus points out of it."

Yet it would not be Wales if there were not a few minus points swirling in the Valleys air, especially when you have just lost by 34 of the blighters. Inevitably, most of the negativity has been focused on Mike Ruddock's cavalier game plan, which at Twickenham seemed as much gun-to-the-temple as gung-ho.

"If you ask me, it's the only way we can play," said last year's player of the tournament. "We can't overpower sides and take them out up front. I accept that we've got to be a bit smarter in the way we are playing, but I think the general ethos has to stay the same. We are still committed to this style without a shadow of a doubt."

Such faith is endearing when the aforementioned style landed Williams in the sin bin last Saturday as he desperately - and rather illegally, as it happens - tried to keep Lewis Moody's hands off a restart which would doubtless have led to yet another passage of English forward dominance. Despite the "professionalism" of such a foul, many experts (not all Welsh) believed that the 30-year-old was hard done by and that a penalty was the fair call. "It was the turning point in the game," admits Williams, half-furious with Paul Honiss, half-furious with himself for giving the New Zealand referee the chance to show him yellow. "Yes, it still hurts."

And it will go on hurting, one gathers, until the first breakdown against Scotland when the fearless open-side they call "Nugget" puts his ginger cranium into an area where certain Hell's Angels would fear to tread. Indeed, there is a cathartic feel to tomorrow's match for the whole of Wales, who can foresee a free-running occasion to obliterate memories of the Twickenham walkover. Williams suspects those hopes are not without foundation.

"This could be the game of the championship," said the Cardiff Blue who joins his club coach, Rob Howley, on 59 caps tomorrow to become the sixth most capped Welshman in history. "If you look at last season's game between the sides, it was very wide-open. I think the ball-in-play time was the highest there's ever been in a Six Nations match. In the last 10 minutes we were all out on our feet as there was so much open play.

"And I can't see it being any different this weekend. As a team, we need to keep the game moving as much as we can and from the evidence of last week's heroics that looks like the way Scotland are trying to play as well. Like us, they have been given a licence to go out and play and not be too pre-programmed."

A sly dig at England, perchance? Williams probably believes that he is due a couple.

Millennium Stadium teams

Wales

15 G Thomas (Toulouse, c)

14 M Jones (Scarlets)

13 H Luscombe (Dragons)

12 M Watkins (Scarlets)

11 S Williams (Ospreys)

10 S Jones (Clermont)

9 D Peel (Scarlets)

1 D Jones (Ospreys)

2 R Thomas (Blues)

3 A R Jones (Ospreys)

4 I Gough (Dragons)

5 R Sidoli (Blues)

6 C Charvis (Newcastle)

7 M Williams (Blues)

8 M Owen (Dragons)

Replacements: M Davies (Gloucester); G Jenkins (Blues); G Delve (Bath); A M Jones (Scarlets); M Phillips (Blues); N Robinson (Blues); L Byrne (Scarlets).

Scotland

15 H Southwell (Edinburgh)

14 C Paterson (Edinburgh)

13 B MacDougall (Borders)

12 A Henderson (Glasgow)

11 S Lamont (Northampton)

10 D Parks (Glasgow)

9 M Blair (Edinburgh)

1 G Kerr (Leeds)

2 S Lawson (Glasgow)

3 B Douglas (Borders)

4 A Kellock (Edinburgh)

5 S Murray (Edinburgh)

6 J White (Sale, capt)

7 A Hogg (Edinburgh)

8 S Taylor (Edinburgh)

Replacements: R Ford (Borders); C Smith (Edinburgh); S MacLeod (Borders); J Petrie (Glasgow); C Cusiter (Borders); G Ross (Leeds); S Webster (Edinburgh).

Referee: S Walsh (New Zealand)

Kick-off: Tomorrow 3pm (BBC 1)

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