Welsh must improve for England warns Howley

Mon, 06 Feb 2017 06:37

REACTION: Interim coach Rob Howley called on Wales to "improve in all areas" before facing England after overcoming a tedious first half to secure a 33-7 win over Italy in their Six Nations opener on Sunday.

Wales sit top of the table on points difference after a weekend that saw Scotland stun Ireland and England snatch a comeback win over France.

But Howley, standing in for Warren Gatland while he is on British and Irish Lions duty, said that Wales would need to lift their game before tackling Grand Slam champions England on Saturday in Cardiff.

"We want to improve in all areas," said Howley, who will await assessments on the fitness of flyhalf Dan Biggar and wing George North after both received knocks against Italy.

Biggar failed to return after half-time at Stadio Olimpico with injured ribs and North took a blow to his thigh but played on, in obvious discomfort.

"We use the word relentless, with and without the ball, there were aspects of our game today when we weren't relentless," said Howley.

"We'll have to put England under more pressure than we did against Italy. That's going to be the challenge."

Howley was quick to put the Welsh performance into perspective.

"We know how tough it is to come to Italy. The conditions made it even tougher and we're pleased, but we'll move on quickly and focus on the next one," he said.

"As I said to the players before the game, it's important for us to start competitions well. We haven't [won our opening game] since 2014 so I'm glad from that perspective that we can go into the next game with a little bit more belief and confidence."

Wales were expected to coast against an Azzurri side they had beaten 22 times in 24 encounters, scoring over 60 points on each of their last two Six Nations meetings.

But Italy's shock 20-18 upset of South Africa in November was a reminder of their marked improvement under Irish coach Conor O'Shea and for nearly an hour Wales were on the back foot.

Italy had a 7-3 half-time lead thanks to Edoardo Gori's try and a Carlo Canna conversion, Leigh Halfpenny hitting a penalty for the visitors, and a battling defensive display that had the Welsh attack frustrated.

But a superb second-half display produced 30 unanswered points as Italy, handicapped by Andrea Lovotti being sent to the sin-bin on the hour, paid for ill-discipline - conceding 15 penalties to Wales's five. 

"We have to make sure we change the perception of people who look at us so that we're officiated on a level playing field," said O'Shea.

Italy's transgressions remain "one of the many things we have to get our heads around," said O'Shea.

After Halfpenny hit three penalties in succession Wales were 12-7 ahead before the hour. 

Lovotti's walk to the sin-bin on 60 minutes virtually ended all hope of an Italy fightback as the visitors ran in late tries thanks to Jonathan Davies, Liam Williams and North.

"They're very disappointed because I felt there was a real opportunity at half-time," added O'Shea. "We drained the energy out of ourselves by our ill-discipline."

Ireland are the next opponents for Italy on Saturday, also in Rome. 

Agence France-Presse

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