Sunday 18 February 2018

Wales seeking instant response to pass Murrayfield test

Warren Gatland will be glad to face Scots after opening defeat, writes Paul Rees

Warren Gatland will demand an instant response to English defeat
Warren Gatland will demand an instant response to English defeat

Paul Rees

The last time Wales lost to England in Cardiff on a Friday night, their next match was at Murrayfield. Redemption followed four years ago, but it is likely to be harder earned this time, with Scotland having more about them since Vern Cotter took over as the head coach last summer.

Wales have not been beaten by Scotland or Italy since Warren Gatland took charge at the end of 2007, challenging for the title rather than the wooden spoon, but the manner of their defeat in the opening round, blowing an eight-point interval lead against a side without a number of injured players and relatively inexperienced, demands an instant response.

England incapacitated Wales in areas where they have been strong under Gatland - the breakdown, the scrum and getting over the gain line - and exploited their weaknesses, most notably a slowness to react when a game was not going according to plan. The margin at the end may have been only five points, but Wales were by then a distinct second best.

"We were not prepared for the tidal wave that came at us after the interval," says the Wales attack coach Rob Howley. "If that happens again, we have to react more positively and not be so conservative. We did not expect the change in England and you have to be able to deal with change. We know it is going to be tough against Scotland, who are playing well, but we tend to be at our best when our backs are against the wall."

Playing will provide relief for Wales who, as well as having a defeat to World Cup group opponents to explain last week, were investigated by World Rugby after the wing George North played on against England when, having been assessed for a head injury in the first half, he suffered a second blow that went undetected.

Wales' medical team had missed North's clash of heads with his team-mate Richard Hibbard because there was no video replay facility pitchside, something they will have at Murrayfield.

"Ideally, we would have had a shorter turnaround after England," says the scrumhalf Rhys Webb. "A lot of the boys stayed in over the weekend, but I went out quad biking and then down to my local club. I did not want to stay in the house and you have to take defeat on the chin. At the end of the day, it is a game of rugby. Everyone is entitled to their opinions and the Welsh public may think that we are no good any more, but we will be back."

Wales are chasing two records: an eighth successive victory over Scotland, having last year equalled the seven they enjoyed between 1908 and 1914, and a fourth consecutive success north of the border. They have not lost their opening two matches in a Six Nations campaign since 2007, before Gatland's arrival.

"We have analysed what went wrong against England," Webb says. "There was an extra edge in training: we were a bit lazy against England, not getting up off the floor quickly enough, and the focus has been on speed and sharpness. We need to repay the fans and everyone is feeling positive.

"No one takes the Wales jersey for granted and we are all being pushed for our places. We have a good record against Scotland and everyone loves going to Murrayfield."

Wales finished last year's Six Nations by thumping Scotland 51-3 in Cardiff, although they had a man advantage for the final hour after Stuart Hogg was sent off for a dangerous tackle, but their last victory on the road against a tier-one nation was at Murrayfield two years ago. With their key World Cup group matches against England and Australia taking place at Twickenham later in the year, they need to overcome their travel sickness.

"We have been here before as players and coaches," Howley says. "We trust our players who have proved their quality. It is a matter of learning from the England defeat and playing the game at Murrayfield on our terms. When we are under the pump, we need to be able to respond."


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