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Rob Howley says Rhys Priestland has always been available for Wales

Published 19/01/2016

Bath fly-half Rhys Priestland has been named in Wales' 37-man RBS 6 Nations squad
Bath fly-half Rhys Priestland has been named in Wales' 37-man RBS 6 Nations squad

Wales assistant coach Rob Howley says that Bath fly-half Rhys Priestland has "always been available" for international selection.

It is understood that when Priestland, who has won 40 Wales caps, began his Bath playing career last October, he chose to take an 18-month sabbatical from Test rugby.

Three weeks ago, though, it was reported that Priestland had decided that he wanted to make himself available for Wales.

He has now been named in Wales' 37-man RBS 6 Nations squad, and Howley dismissed any notion that he might have disappeared off head coach Warren Gatland's selection radar at any point.

"He never told us he would not be available after joining Bath," Howley said.

"He has been very confident about where his game is at, and we are confident he will be able to do what he has done in the past.

"He has always been available to be selected by Wales, and there has never been a conversation with him suggesting otherwise."

Priestland will be part of a Wales squad determined to make its mark on this season's Six Nations after a World Cup campaign that produced quarter-final heartache against South Africa.

Wales had progressed to the last-eight as pool runners-up following a loss to Australia, despite the Wallabies at one stage being reduced to 13 men.

Injuries also hit Wales hard throughout the tournament, but Howley admitted on Tuesday that the Australia review proved a particularly painful one.

"The period between 56 and 69 minutes against Australia I can take you through every tackle, pass, scrum and lineout that happened in that period," he added.

" We learn as coaches, we have to learn from it, and we will.

"We were held up three times over the (Australia) line. The accuracy and composure in the opposition 22 are critical to success in the Six Nations, because you need to come away with points.

"We remedied it a little bit against South Africa, but from a players' perspective, we have to get better when we have sides under stress in defensive areas.

"We all have to realise that when those moments come, you might not get another opportunity. Australia defended with their lives when they were down to 13 men."

Wales have already won the Six Nations title three times during Gatland's reign, including the tournaments that immediately followed the 2007 and 2011 World Cups, and Howley is excited about this season's prospects.

"When you look at our performances in the Six Nations in the last eight years, there is a high win percentage," Howley said.

"The hunger to win games is always there with us. That is the nature of the beast, the coaches and the players.

"Some of them have been in the environment for a number of years, and Warren is fantastic at putting an environment in place that totally gives you a very high percentage of winning international games."

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