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Six Nations: It's all or nothing now for Howley's badly mauled squad

By Michael Sadlier

It all looks like one of those circle the wagons moments. After their second half collapse against the Scots, Wales have no shot at the title and are now staring down the barrel of three Six Nations losses on the bounce.

Yes, and then their under fire stand-in head coach Rob Howley goes and picks an unchanged team.

And tonight's Test is not just about salvaging tattered pride in their home stadium with the memories still so raw from their last game there when they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory over England.

The World Cup draw for 2019 is coming up in May and, after those defeats to England and Scotland, the Welsh have dropped to seventh in the world rankings.

Not good but should they then lose to Ireland, and France, those outcomes will drag the Dragon down into ninth, morphing them into a third tier seeding for the World Cup.

Another 'pool of death' would then await them just as it did in 2015 though they did manage to negotiate their way to the last eight largely thanks to England's collapse.

So, with all that backdrop it was thought only logical that Howley would make changes. The fact that he has resisted tweaking his side, ignoring the claims of Sam Davies, Luke Charteris, Taulupe Faletau and even the experienced warhorse Jamie Roberts - all are still benched in what is exactly the same 23 on show at Murrayfield - shows that this is an all or nothing moment now.

And leaving the horrible prospect of another Six Nations slump and its impact on the World Cup aside, the Welsh players also have British and Irish Lions hopes to ponder and surely not even their usual head coach Warren Gatland can take many of them to New Zealand if they continue to falter.

So, they have to deliver for not only the shirt, and the World Cup draw, but also for their own plans for the summer with surely Alun Wyn Jones' already damaged candidacy for leading the Lions squad hanging on what they do over the next two games.

Yes, it's backs to the wall time and though you would expect Wales to unleash their fury on Ireland, anger and frustration won't be enough.

Jonathan Davies, George North and even Leigh Halfpenny have all looked well below their normal selves with Davies missing a straightforward touch against England, resulting in Elliot Daly's winning try, North having a nightmare defensively at Murrayfield and Halfpenny owning up for not taking a crucial shot at goal against the Scots after a confusing debate between himself, skipper Wyn Jones and Dan Biggar.

Wales disintegrated against Scotland - the concession of 20 unanswered points after half-time was numbingly embarrassing - and that fallout has somewhat detracted from other matters such as tonight's intriguing clash of scrum-halves between two in-form players, Rhys Webb and Conor Murray .

Sam Warburton has certainly laid it on the line by stating that Wales essentially owe the nation a performance.

Quite the rallying cry, but you do wonder whether Welsh fire will just fizzle out if not matched by what they have lacked so much of late, namely confidence and composure.

Belfast Telegraph

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