Welsh glory could leave a bitter taste
Published 15/03/2013 | 08:16
Wales boss Rob Howley has no doubt his players will "deserve a beer" if they complete a stunning transformation from opening weekend flops to RBS 6 Nations champions.
It is just six weeks ago that Wales trailed Ireland by 27 points at home with almost half the game left. But when Wales return to the Millennium Stadium on Saturday for Grand Slam-chasing England's visit, it will be on the back of three successive away wins and harbouring a realistic title chance, despite that 30-22 loss to Ireland.
Wales have not successfully defended the Five or Six Nations crown since 1979, yet a minimum eight-point victory this weekend would guarantee they achieve that feat. "The players have been absolutely fantastic over the last five weeks and have put themselves in a position (to challenge for the title), after regaining momentum," Howley said.
A seven-point margin would also be enough - provided they stay ahead of unbeaten England on tournament try-count - to wilt the red rose.
Howley added: "They will deserve a beer on Saturday night if that happens."
Howley, meanwhile, has again put the team dynamic before individuals with his choice of captain for Saturday's clash. Howley has appointed Toulon prop Gethin Jenkins as the third different Wales skipper of this season's Six Nations campaign after Sam Warburton and Ryan Jones.
Jones broke a bone in his shoulder during last weekend's victory over Scotland, and he is replaced in the back row by Justin Tipuric, with Warburton wearing Wales' number six shirt.
Howley has decided for a second successive game not to reinstall Warburton - last season's Grand Slam skipper - as captain, preferring instead to let him concentrate on his own game. That approach worked a treat at Murrayfield six days ago when Warburton delivered a towering man-of-the-match display.
"I spoke to Sam," Howley added. "I think as a coach you have a gut feeling about a player and how he feels, and you always take a player's form into consideration. With Sam, the way he played against Scotland, the gut feeling was that I would rather he focused on his own game.
"That is how I saw it, and you have to make those difficult decisions when they come. It is in the best interests of the national team to be best prepared for England this weekend that Gethin Jenkins captains this side."