Lions tour not on Welsh players' minds

Thu, 09 Mar 2017 07:30
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IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Wales dominated the last British and Irish Lions squad in their winning tour to Australia, but interim head coach Rob Howley insists his misfiring team are focused solely on victory over Ireland on Friday.

Howley has taken the reins for a second time, with Warren Gatland again seconded to Lions duty ahead of the three-Test, 10-match tour to New Zealand.

Gatland plumped for 15 Welsh players in his initial 37-man squad in 2013, but Wales' recent performances have raised the prospect of this year's tour being dominated by high-flying England, with a raft of Scottish and Irish players also having put their hand up. 

Howley, himself a Lion in 2001 having missed the 1997 tour due to injury after initial selection, insisted ahead of Friday's Six Nations match against the Irish that thoughts of potential Lions berths had not been used as a motivating factor.

"No not at all," the former scrumhalf said after naming an unchanged team from the one that imploded against Scotland last time out, leaking 20 unanswered second-half points in a woeful showing.

"Ultimately, wearing the Welsh jersey, performance in the national jersey is first and foremost for me," he said.

"You know it's Lions year, you know there's an opportunity at the end of the year.

"But you know you have to get your performance on the field for a period of 12 months, and that's for your club, region and Wales."

Howley added: "The Six Nations takes a huge focus on their performances.

"The players in all countries know that over the next couple of games that if you haven't played well, at the level you thought you should have played, you have the opportunity to play well."

Wales, who opened their campaign with a romp over Italy before falling to unbeaten England and then the Scots, wrap up their Six Nations campaign away to France on March 18.

Welsh skipper Alun Wyn Jones has also tasted life as a British and Irish Lion, first touring in 2009 to South Africa before also going to Australia four years ago.

Standing in for the injured Sam Warburton, Jones skippered the Lions in their tour-deciding third Test against the Wallabies, the lock guiding the home unions team to a memorable 41-16 victory.

But straight-talking Jones is not one to be carried away by nostalgia.

"Hopefully people have that ambition," he said of his teammates' view of potentially playing under Gatland in New Zealand.

"We're very conscious of where we are and where we aren't, that's probably more important.

"From a player's point of view it's pretty worrying if you're worrying about something at the end of the season when we've got a game in two days we really need to concentrate on."

Howley added that "every player has a point to prove when you pull the national jersey on".

"That's the challenge of international rugby. It's about handling the pressure from one minute to 80 minutes. That's the challenge for all of us.

"Winning is pretty important on Friday night, as everyone knows. International rugby is about winning. It's the same in cricket, football or rugby. That is the same consistent message to our players.

"We missed out on six or seven try-scoring opportunities against Scotland. It's about being clinical and keeping hold of the ball. The disappointment was the unforced errors in the first 15 minutes of the second half. Scotland had 99 percent possession, and we had one percent in that period."

Agence France-Presse

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