Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Halfpenny fired up for French exchange

Leigh Halfpenny has called for a Wales response this weekend

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 on Thursday, 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.

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