With two away games to come to complete this year’s Guinness Six Nations, Wales skipper Ken Owens is targeting a first win under his leadership when he takes his side to Rome to face Italy in a fortnight’s time and then goes on to Paris.
“The last two weeks have taken their toll for a numbers of reasons, but we can’t use that as an excuse. A lot of things have gone on, but we drew a line in the sand and now every stakeholder in Welsh rugby has to come together and we have to improve,” said Owens.
“Every game in a Welsh jersey is a must win game. We haven’t won a game yet and we will go out there and put pressure on ourselves to win,” said Wales skipper Ken Owens.
“We put a shift in against England and I’m proud that we fronted up. There was a lot of good stuff out there – we gave a massive effort for 80 minutes and we were right in the game throughout.
“We left a couple of opportunities out there and I can’t question the effort of this squad. We are in a re-building phase, and we’ve got to re-build pretty quickly. Our discipline and defensive effort were much better, we stuck to our game plan, but came up short.
“We soaked up a little bit too much pressure in the first half and turned over the ball close to their line three or four times.”
Looking back on the performance in the 20-10 defeat to England, head coach Warren Gatland had the following to say:
HOW WAS THE PERFORMANCE?
“We can be critical of ourselves in terms of us creating a lot of problems for ourselves in not being accurate in key critical moments.
“That’s what Test match rugby is about, staying in the arm wrestle and to staying in the fight, and being accurate.
“We’ve spoken about being hard on ourselves, in areas we need to improve on. I thought there were a number of improvements in that performance but there is still a lot of work for us to do.”
NEW LOOK BACK LINE
“I thought Joe Hawkins went well and Mason Grady did well for his first cap. We defended well at times, we probably need to create a bit more width on attack and that is something we need to work on.
“It’s a case of us trying to control the things in critical moments, whether that’s nailing a lineout or stopping a ball going to ground from a pass.
“We have a little bit of contact stuff we can tidy up in the 22 and just creating a bit more on attack. We do a lot of work in terms of receiving kicks and we put a couple down or knocked them on, which allowed them to shift the momentum. There are a lot of things we were happy with, and we have improved.
“Our Achilles heel at the moment is not being accurate and clinical in the opposition 22. And we are exposing the ball and allowing the opposition to get on it.
“We didn’t get too many penalties from breakdowns and there were a couple against us. We just need to be a little bit more accurate and patient in that area and make sure we focus on securing the ball.”
WHAT TEAM CAN WE EXPECT FOR ROME?
“We’ve looked at a few players. It is all very well saying that, but you also need a little bit of continuity in selection. We wanted to find out a bit about players within the squad, and we kind of feel having done that in games and training, we are now thinking about cohesion going forward, particularly for the Italy game which becomes pretty important.”
ITALIAN GAME MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER?
“The last thing you want to do is get the Wooden Spoon. That’s got to be our focus from that. Part of this Six Nations is about us thinking about the next six or seven months. We’ve got older players still holding their hands up and some younger players who need some time.
“We’ve not got that group in the middle, who have 30 or 40 caps. We’ve got to marry the two together and start thinking about that going forward. Some of those youngsters need to be given more time together. You can’t coach experience.
“That was part of the conversation I had with Joe Hawkins in the week. He wasn’t particularly happy with parts of his game against Scotland, but I thought he had a good game today and improved from us giving him the confidence to go out there and play. He’s a player I think will continue to get better and better, but he needs more time in the middle.”
CONFIDENT BUILDING TOWARDS WORLD CUP?
“I know that the best thing about a World Cup is the amount of time you have together. When we get to the World Cup, the hard work we’ll have put in and the improvement we’ll get in terms of strength, power and fitness will have a big impact on the performance of this side moving forward.”