Sunday 17 December 2017

Halfpenny fired up for Wales’ French test

Wales flyhalf Leigh Halfpenny
Wales flyhalf Leigh Halfpenny

Andrew Baldock

LEIGH HALFPENNY has urged Wales to play like champions in Paris on Saturday after their grip on the RBS 6 Nations title was loosened after their defeat to Ireland in last weekend's tournament opener.


Form and history is stacked against Wales, given they have claimed only three away wins at France's expense since 1975 and have not beaten another playing Test-playing country for 11 months.

The current run of eight successive defeats is Wales' worst results sequence in 10 years, and their latest French assignment immediately follows Les Bleus' shock defeat to Italy.

"We still believe in ourselves, we still believe in our ability and the work we put in throughout the week," Wales full-back Halfpenny said.

"We are not in crisis. There is one game down and the tournament is still wide open.

"At the end of the day, we are the defending champions, and that means something. We have to go out and play like we are champions.

"We have to make sure we are putting the work in throughout the week and believe that every time we take to that pitch we are going to win. That is the attitude we have to have on Saturday."

Wales' 43-minute no show against Ireland saw them outplayed, outthought and horribly outscored as their Millennium Stadium visitors racked up 30 points.

Although Wales subsequently rallied with three tries of their own, too much damage had already been caused by Brian O'Driscoll, Simon Zebo, Jonathan Sexton and company.

Interim head coach Rob Howley will announce his team for the France clash tomorrow, with changes expected up-front following Ireland's 30-22 success.

Prop Paul James, hooker Richard Hibbard and flanker Justin Tipuric all appear on course to start, while former Wales captain Ryan Jones could also feature, possibly in the second-row.

If openside specialist Tipuric is handed the number seven shirt, skipper Sam Warburton will probably move to six, with James replacing Gethin Jenkins and Hibbard taking over from Matthew Rees.

Howley, though, might also feel that 70 times-capped Jones' experience cannot be overlooked for a game of such magnitude.

Jones, who has captained Wales on more occasions than any other player, missed the Ireland game due to a dislocated thumb. If he is recalled, then Andrew Coombs - an impressive Test debutant against Ireland - could miss out in what would be a horses-for-courses selection.

Wales, now ranked 10th in the world below the likes of Argentina, Samoa and Italy, need a response this weekend or face hurtling towards possible Six Nations wooden spoon territory.

"I thought we reacted well in the second-half (against Ireland), but it is not acceptable to be 30 points down before you react. We need to react from the start," Halfpenny added.

"We did talk things through and about where we could create opportunities, but the execution wasn't there and there is no excuse for that.

"It is down to the players. We were prepared in the best way possible by the coaches and given everything we needed going into the game.

"It is the players on the pitch who have the job of winning the game for Wales."

And Halfpenny's fellow back Scott Williams, whose subtle midfield skills make him a viable alternative to either of the current midfield pairing Jonathan Davies or Jamie Roberts, knows that only a win will do this weekend.

"No-one really remembers how you win the game. It's if you won it or not, really," Williams said.

“You don't ask how Chelsea won the Champions League. We just need to get a win. It doesn't matter how we get it.

“The boys have put a lot of effort in over the last couple of months. It is a bit frustrating we haven't had anything to show for it.

“I am sure they (France) will be fired up but, saying that, we will be as well. I am sure it is going to be a very good game. We've got a lot of things to put right, and I'm sure they have as well.”

Press Association

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