At the RBS 6 nations launch last week, I spent some time in the company of the Wales coach Robert Howley.
One of the most gifted scrum halves ever to wear the Wales and Lions jersey, he now finds himself facing another 6 Nations campaign as caretaker manager, whilst Warrren Gatland organises yet another British & Irish lions summer tour.
The last time Rob was in charge of Wales in the six nations was in 2003, when England were demolished 30-3 in the final game of the championship, in Cardiff, to give the men in red the title.
After an Autumn that was good in terms of results, but frustrating in terms of performance, we are all unsure what to expect in 2017.
On Wales seven new uncapped squad members Rob said,
“The new players helped bring a freshness and a new competitive edge to the squad when they assembled last week”
“There was a different feel, there was a lot of energy but maybe the players who have been in our environment for a period of time have said something to themselves that they haven’t been good enough”
Every member of the Welsh entourage I spoke to, emphasised what an impact new captain Alun Wyn Jones had already made on the squad.
Rob spoke about a new dynamic in the Wales camp,
“Alun Wyn has certainly put his footprint on his captain’s style over the past few days and he will flourish in the role”
Regarding Wales chances in the tournament he is well aware that a big improvement is required if the men in red are to offer a challenge to the title.
“We’ve got over the line in the autumn three times so I think the players will take pride in that, but we all accept that we need to go up to another level, and another level started last Monday”
“It’s a big year as everyone knows, but that standard has to be set in a Welsh jersey, and in the last few six nations we’ve come up short, and that hurts”
Whilst happy that Wales are coming in “under the radar” in this years tournament, Howley is expecting big things, and the first seven days of Wales involvement in the six nations will be make or break, as following the opener in Rome, Wales have a six day turnaround before they face England in Cardiff.
“They (Italy) have a new coaching team and that’s going to be a huge motivation, it will probably be at their highest”
As Rob was whisked away to face the cameras, he smiled and shook hands, ever the gentleman, I hope that he will be smiling come March 19th.