Under-pressure Wales cannot afford to slip up against Irish, admits Rees
WALES hooker Matthew Rees has upped the ante ahead of their opening Six Nations tie against Ireland on Saturday week, insisting that the Cardiff clash is a game the home side cannot afford to lose.
Wales have suffered a woeful run of form since winning the Grand Slam last season, with seven successive defeats that included embarrassing Cardiff losses to Argentina and Samoa.
They face a demanding first week, with a trip to Paris following just seven days after hosting Declan Kidney's team, and Rees knows it's vital they get off to a winning start.
"With three successive games on the road – France, Italy and Scotland – it underlines how important that first game is at home to Ireland," Rees said. "We all know it is the most important one in terms of getting momentum and confidence leading into the rest of the campaign.
"The most important thing for us is we make sure we learn from what happened in the autumn. We know how disappointing we were, with four losses, but that is all in the past now and we've got to make sure we learn from that."
Rob Howley takes charge of Wales' Six Nations campaign after assuming interim head coach duties while Warren Gatland concentrates full-time on Lions business for the Australia mission later this year.
Although results have not gone well for Howley so far – last summer's Australia tour and then the opening two autumn Tests this term – 57 times-capped Rees has no doubt that he fits the bill.
"Rob has huge respect from the players and the coaches involved. I thought he did a great job in the autumn, although results didn't go our way," Rees said. "Rob has got the same strengths as Warren as a coach, and it is great for us to have him.
"The important thing for us is not to worry too much about the opposition, but making sure we get our own house in order and ensure we prepare well for Ireland. We know how good a team they are. They have got a lot of experienced players."