Belfast Telegraph

Sports Awards

Home Sport Rugby

Wales aim to make home advantage count and push for top-two Six Nations finish

Victories in their remaining games against Italy and France could see Wales move up to second.

Warren Gatland is targeting the “reasonable result” of a runners-up finish for Wales in this season’s NatWest 6 Nations Championship.

Wales’ title hopes effectively ended following successive defeats against England and Ireland, but victories in their final two games – Principality Stadium appointments with Italy and France – could see them take second place.

“We know with a good result on Sunday and then France at home, there is a possibility we could finish second in this tournament, and that would be a reasonable result,” Gatland said.

“The Six Nations could be over on the weekend.

“If Ireland beat Scotland and England lose in France, which I think they are capable of doing, then Ireland win the championship and we’ve got a chance of finishing second, which is important for us.

“We have got two home games and we’ve got to look to finish this tournament on a high.

Ireland v Wales – RBS Six Nations – Aviva Stadium

“We just need to learn from the last two games against England and Ireland in terms of adapting to the way teams are attacking against us.

“They came very narrow against us and very close off (number) nine, and it’s quite hard to defend that and hard to get the ball back off the team that are playing so narrow. We have been working hard this week on adapting to that.

“But from an attacking and set-piece point of view, we have been excellent, and that is really positive for going forward.”

A Wales team showing 10 changes will tackle the Azzurri on Sunday, with players like centre Owen Watkin, hooker Elliot Dee and flanker James Davies all gaining gilt-edged chances to impress Gatland and underline how squad depth is growing 18 months from the next World Cup.

There is also a new captain in number eight Taulupe Faletau, who takes over from the rested Alun Wyn Jones, with only five players – Liam Williams, Steff Evans, Hadleigh Parkes, Gareth Davies and Cory Hill – remaining on starting duty from a 37-27 defeat against Ireland 12 days ago.

“We have made a number of changes in the past, particularly against Italy,” Gatland added.

“The thought for this is there is some real experience coming back into the side, with (British and Irish) Lions becoming available. You’ve got George North on the wing, Liam Williams goes back to full-back and Justin Tipuric gets a first start in this campaign.

“Then we are able to give some fringe players an opportunity to get a start with some real experience around them.”

Ireland v Wales – RBS Six Nations – Aviva Stadium

And reflecting on the campaign to date, Gatland said: “If that (Gareth Anscombe) pass had gone to hand at the end against Ireland – if it had gone out of the back to Justin Tipuric with a three-on-one – we score with a bonus point and are top of the table.

“The great thing about this competition at the moment is everyone feels there is an opportunity for them to perform. I think that’s fantastic for the Six Nations.

“We don’t feel we are too far away. We are playing some great attacking rugby.”

Daily News Headlines Newsletter

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox.


From Belfast Telegraph