Monday 18 November 2019

Wales defensive coach Shaun Edwards: Ireland are the best team and the form team in Europe

Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton were praised by Jonathan Edwards
Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton were praised by Jonathan Edwards

Andrew Baldock

Shaun Edwards says that Wales see "a lot of potential" in uncapped Exeter prop Tomas Francis.

The York-born tighthead qualifies for Wales through his grandmother, and he has proved an important part of Exeter's ongoing push for Aviva Premiership play-off status this season.

And the 22-year-old has now been invited to train with the Wales squad by head coach Warren Gatland as they go into the final stages of their RBS 6 Nations campaign.

"His scrummaging is outstanding, but he is also a skilful player as well," Wales assistant coach and defence specialist Edwards said.

"Francis is a big kid, and I have seen him play. The scrum at Exeter has been going excellently recently, so we have brought him in.

"He is a young man who is coming from a great environment at Exeter which prides itself on hard work, and we would like to think we are a similar sort of environment.

"It's a case of trying to get the best players playing for us, and we see a lot of potential in this lad."

Francis, who weighs in at more than 20 stone, played Championship rugby for Doncaster and London Scottish before he was snapped up by Exeter, and he could easily push for a World Cup squad place with Wales later this year if he continues to impress.

Experienced Scarlets hooker Ken Owens, meanwhile, has been called into the Six Nations squad and reported for duty at Wales' training base on Monday.

Wales, despite losing their opening Six Nations game to England, have given themselves a fighting chance of landing a third title in four years following successive away victories over Scotland and France.

Reigning champions and unbeaten title favourites Ireland are next up in five days' time, and Edwards is under no illusion how big a task will be presented by Joe Schmidt's team.

"We have looked at our opponents, and we are coming up against the best team in Europe, the form team in Europe," Edwards added.

"They have got two brilliant half-backs, for a start, who have got great tactical brains.

"They have a strike-runner on the outside in Tommy Bowe who maybe the best defensive winger in the northern hemisphere. He is magnificent in picking up interceptions, and we have to keep our eye on Tommy.

"The forwards are well-drilled and a cohesive unit, and play with a lot of passion and aggression, and they have got excellent coaches.

"These are the big games you get excited about, and big-time players rise to the challenge."

Two key areas that Wales will need to perform strongly in are the lineout, where Ireland will be spearheaded by their captain Paul O'Connell, and shackling an impressive new Irish midfield combination of Jared Payne and Robbie Henshaw.

Edwards said: "They (O'Connell and Devin Toner) are a very experienced second-row pairing.

"Having worked with Paul, he is a very wily operator and a guy who I have huge respect for.

"Our guys will have their work cut out at lineout time, but they have already been in this morning having meetings and looking at the different structures. They know we are in for a challenge in that area, and I am sure they are up for it.

"And I have been very impressed with them (Ireland centres).

"I knew more about Payne, having watched Ulster more than Connacht. But Henshaw is a big physical guy, and Payne has a cutting edge on the outside. It's important we don't give them any space whatsoever."

PA Media

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