Friday, December 25, 2009

Wales “relishing” start of Six Nations insists Rob Howley

ROB HOWLEY last night insisted bruised Wales are “relishing” starting their bid for Six Nations glory against England.

The former Wales captain spoke out as the inquest continued into a stuttering autumn campaign, which concluded with a hugely disappointing 33-12 loss to Australia on Saturday.

Howley, Warren Gatland’s attack coach, is adamant that Twickenham on February 6 is the perfect place for Wales to rediscover the form which saw them crowned 2008 Grand Slam kings.

It was at the headquarters of English rugby in February 2008 that Wales produced a stunning second-half fightback to overhaul the Red Rose and sow the seeds of European dominance.

“We will be working flat out to ensure our game is right for Twickenham,” vowed Howley.

“The management and the players are relishing the challenge that lies in wait for us.

“We aim to bounce back from the disappointing defeat against Australia.

“International rugby is all about momentum and it was our win at Twickenham two seasons ago which triggered the Grand Slam.”

That was the opening match of the Gatland era and Wales won at Twickenham for the first time since 1988 after staging a miraculous second-half recovery.

“There’s no better place than Twickenham to generate momentum,” said Howley.

“On paper it looks like it’s going to be a wide-open championship, so it’s essential we start well.

“We know England are going to be a hard side to beat on their patch, but we have every confidence in what our players are capable of doing.”

Howley did not use the glut of injuries which have afflicted Wales as a factor in the autumn performances.

“It was disappointing to have them but it was important for us to blood players like Sam Warburton, Dan Lydiate, Jonathan Davies, Dan Biggar and Tom James,” he said.

“You are always going to get injuries in international rugby and it’s essential we develop strength in depth in our squad with the World Cup coming up in New Zealand in 2011

“Of course, we would like to have everybody fit and well for every match, but the game is so physical and intense nowadays it rarely happens.”

Nevertheless, there is potentially some good news for concerned Welsh supporters with the return of three key players not far off.

Full-back Lee Byrne is on target to return to action this month for the Ospreys’ Heineken Cup tie against Italian side Viadana.

Tight-head prop Adam Jones, whose presence at the scrum was missed during the autumn series, is also close to playing again after an operation on the dislocated shoulder he suffered for the Lions against South Africa.

And Lions scrum-half Mike Phillips hasn’t been ruled out of the Six Nations opener, despite major ankle surgery which initially seemed set to keep him out for four months.

There is a possibility that Phillips might be fit enough to get a couple of matches under his belt for the Ospreys before the clash with England.

Mark Jones, who was forced to drop out of the autumn squad with a knee injury, might also make the Six Nations kick-off.

ROB HOWLEY is a Heineken ambassador. Heineken are proud to be celebrating the 15th anniversary of the Heineken Cup, the best club rugby competition in the world.

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