Fri, Feb 08, 2013 - Page 18 News List

Halfpenny trashes talk of a crisis in Welsh rugby; defends interim coach

AFP, CARDIFF, United Kingdom

Wales’ Toby Faletau, left, breaks for the line during their Six Nations match against Ireland in Cardiff, Wales, on Feb. 2.

Photo: AFP

Leigh Halfpenny has said talk of a Wales “crisis” is misplaced as they attempt to end their losing streak against France in Paris this weekend.

Grand Slam champions Wales saw their hopes of a successful title defense punctured by a 30-22 first-round defeat by Ireland in Cardiff last Saturday.

One consolation is that France lost as well last weekend, going down 23-18 to Italy in Rome.

Nevertheless, there is no escaping the fact that Wales — who have enjoyed just three away wins against France since 1975 — have now lost their last eight matches and have not beaten another Test-playing nation for nearly a year.

However, defiant Wales fullback Halfpenny said on Wednesday: “We are not in crisis. There is one game down and the tournament is still wide open.”

“At the end of the day, we are the defending champions, and that means something. We have to go out and play like we are champions,” he added. “We have to make sure we are putting the work in throughout the week and believe that every time we take to that pitch we are going to win. That is the attitude we have to have on Saturday.”

A major problem for Wales in the Ireland game is that it was only until early in the second half at the Millennium Stadium, by which time the visitors had piled up 30 points, that they started to make any impression on the game.

Under-pressure interim head coach Rob Howley, standing in now Warren Gatland has been seconded to the British and Irish Lions for this year’s tour of Australia, was due to name his side to play France yesterday.

Changes seem inevitable after the Ireland defeat, with in-form flanker Justin Tipuric pushing for a starting place in a back row where fellow openside flanker and Wales captain Sam Warburton could move across to the blindside.

Halfpenny took heart from Wales’ rally against Ireland, but said they could not afford a repeat of their sluggish first-half display and defended Howley against his critics.

“I thought we reacted well in the second-half [against Ireland], but it is not acceptable to be 30 points down before you react. We need to react from the start,” he said.

“It is down to the players. We were prepared in the best way possible by the coaches and given everything we needed going into the game,” Halfpenny said.

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