Rugby Union: Howley looks ahead to autumn internationals
Wales caretaker head coach Rob Howley will name his squad to face Argentina, Samoa, Australia and New Zealand in the Dove Men Series at the Millennium Stadium this autumn, in just over three weeks’ time.
Howley will take his squad back to Spala in Poland, to the same athlete’s village whose cryotherapy centre was utilised to great effect as part of Welsh preparations for the 2011 Rugby World Cup, at the end of next month, having named his squad a week earlier on Monday, 22 October.
The 2009 British & Irish Lions backs coach, who took full charge of his national side for the first time during this summer’s tour to Australia, will be the man at the helm for Wales for the majority of the season ahead, due to incumbent boss Warren Gatland’s Lions sabbatical.
And the former scrum half’s first act back on home soil after a close fought 3-0 defeat to the Wallabies Down Under is to continue with Gatland’s model for hard work and intense physical preparation.
But Howley, who won 59 caps for Wales and captained his country on 22 occasions, has also warned his squad must maintain a mental edge as well as a physical one in order for them to progress in the weeks ahead.
Wales lost by a single point in the dying seconds of the third Test in Australia, after being ahead as the hooter went in the second Test. Despite the closeness of the matches the history books say Howley’s side failed on three attempts to become the first Welsh team to win on Australian soil since 1969, but the coach believes he will have a stronger squad for the lessons learnt.
The reigning RBS 6 Nations Grand Slam champions have another chance to defeat the Wallabies at the end of the four match series this Autumn, which all starts with a visit from the Pumas to Cardiff on Saturday, 9 November and Howley is looking to create a winning habit from the outset.
“We spoke after that final match (on the Australia tour) as coaches and warned against hiding away from the fact that we had lost this series 3-0,” said Howley.
“The difference between winning and losing those games was about holding our nerve, mastering a particular moment, having the mental strength in the last 30 seconds of a game to do the right thing.
“Yes, these were things we were unable to do in these instances, but we need to remember what it feels like so we can get it right next time.
“It had been a whitewash and it’s important to face up to that, but from both a players’ and coaches’ perspective we know we can draw strength from adversity like that. We thought as a nationwe closed that gap in our mental toughness, but we know there is still improvement to make.”
After the Pumas, Howley’s side face Samoa in the now customary and popular Friday night fixture at the Millennium Stadium, which is priced for a family audience, before the already sold-out clash with the All Blacks the following Saturday. Then it’s the eagerly awaited re-match against the Wallabies in the series climax on Saturday, 1 December.
“Argentina are up first and we all know it is the next game that is always the most important,” added Howley.
“The Pumas will benefit from the expansion of the Rugby Championship and the exposure it has given them to Test rugby at the very highest level. It is our most important game because it is our next game, but Samoa come to Cardiff as well, we have another chance to test ourselves against the All Blacks at the Millennium Stadium and we face the Wallabies again.
“We must learn from our experiences in Australia this summer and take them into this autumn series.
“We know we will have opportunities and we know we must take them. We are developing a squad with strength and depth so there is every reason to look forward to the series and the challenges of the year ahead.”