2006 Six Nations: Wales v Italy
Welsh desperate for a good performance
March 5, 2006
Sergio Parisse will be a big threat to Welsh hopes for a win © Getty Images
This weekend's game against Italy is a very important game for us. We are desperate to perform well and win in front of our home fans. We are certainly not underestimating the Italians. Italy is a stronger and more mature team this year. In the past they have tended to be favourites for the Wooden Spoon, and although they have not yet enjoyed a win this year, in the three games they have played so far they have been very competitive for sixty minutes and they have shown that they can compete with three of the top teams in the world, in France, Ireland and England. I am sure that they will be coming out firing and targeting us to turn their disappointing losses into a famous win.
We ourselves are coming off the back of a very disappointing game against Ireland . Regardless of the defeat, which no team ever enjoys, it was the nature of our performance which disappointed us most of all. Whereas Italy has been losing but performing well, we have lost and performed poorly. Italy have great forwards, everyone knows how good their scrum and lineout is. However the spine of their team - 8,9,10 - is also very strong now with Sergio Parisse from Stade Français at No. 8 who is playing tremendously well, Paul Griffen at scrum-half and Ramiro Pez who is a world class kicker and has been controlling the game very well at fly half.
Many people are questioning whether we can we recover from our Ireland defeat. We are an unbelievably tight unit, which is one of the reasons we won the Grand Slam last year. We would do anything for each other, and if any team can come out of this defeat, it is us.
Our only slight concern, which we cannot control, is our ever growing injury list. We were unfortunate to lose Stephen Jones in the game, obviously he is a key figure in our team, however we are confident that he will be fit for the Italy game. He has been walking around with a smile on his face, and when he does that is a good sign.
If he does not recover however, we have great faith in the players coming in. Gavin Henson has been tremendous since he returned to the squad. When the issue of the book came out we dealt with it, had a player meeting, and as far as we were all concerned the issue was over when that meeting was over. He has been an asset to the squad, with great input in training, and ultimately his best asset is that he is a great rugby player first and foremost. Rugby is a team game and we want him in it.
For me personally it is of course a huge disappointment not to be playing. You feel you want to be a part of it, but I am still doing my bit. I am doing analysis on the Italian and French team, so I do feel at least that I am putting something in.
Despite our disappointing performance I still expect a full house at the Millennium Stadium. To be successful you need the support of the fans, and I feel that our support is the 'X factor' for us. When the stadium is full it is a daunting atmosphere for any opposing team and gives us a huge lift. I also think the supporters realise that the most important things are the eighty minutes of the game, and not all the political wrangling and events which go on before or after.
The departure of Mike Ruddock was obviously upsetting for all of us, but rugby is a professional game and we are all professionals and we know that coaches will come and go. We must accept the decision and move on. Scott Johnson becoming our head coach has not disrupted things as much as some people might expect simply because we know him well and he has been an important part of the squad for four or five years and he is doing what he has always done, but with a different title.
We have two games left, against Italy and France , and we are confident that we can win them both. Two factors are in our favour. The first is that both matches are at home and the second is that we are desperate to perform in front of our home fans, with our win over Scotland being the only time we played well.
We have a young squad that bring a lot of enthusiasm into the team. Sometimes when we play away that enthusiasm can be dampened slightly, but at home we expect them to rise to the occasion. We will not change our game style, in fact on the contrary we have to keep it. We do go into games with analysis on our opposition and how best to play them, but we must always remain true to how we are most confident playing, and our expansive game is what we are comfortable with and how we play best.
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