Wales warn players no one is safe for Six Nations clash with France

Wales have warned their players that no one's place is safe after an opening day defeat by Ireland in the Six Nations extended their losing run to eight Tests.

Not even the captain, Sam Warburton, who 10 months ago was regarded as the favourite to lead the Lions in Australia this summer, will sleep easily in the next couple of nights before the team to face France are announced on Thursday.

Warburton is under pressure at open-side flanker from Justin Tipuric, who made an impact from the bench against Ireland. Dropping the captain would be a big call for Wales's interim head coach, Robert Howley, and it is hard to see him making it without reference to the man he is covering for this championship, Warren Gatland, who is on sabbatical with the Lions.

One option would be to play Tipuric and Warburton in the same back row in the continued absence of Dan Lydiate but that would merely delay the issue with the 2012 man of the tournament expected to return before the end of the Six Nations. And anyway, Ryan Jones is fit again after a thumb injury sidelined him on the weekend.

"I would play both Warburton and Tipuric," said Martyn Williams, who won 100 Wales caps as an open-side. "France will play a huge driving game but we have to worry about ourselves and we play better rugby with Justin on the pitch. I think we missed a trick on Saturday by not playing the two together – and getting turned over in the contact area early set the tone for the match."

Wales will not panic even though they had described the need for victory against Ireland as an imperative with their following three matches away from Cardiff. Their problems run deeper than the form of their captain, who is becoming a scapegoat for repeated failure.

"Every player will be nervous about selection and that is the way it should be," said the Wales defence coach, Shaun Edwards. "Even experienced players know they are in jeopardy after two, I repeat two, bad games. Certain players had a bad day against Ireland, but they have been outstanding for us in the past."

Wales had two bad performances in November, against Argentina and Samoa, and the last time they defeated a country was in March 2012, when they beat France to claim the grand slam. Even though Aaron Shingler, who started in the back row against Ireland only to be forced off with an injury, is expected to be fit, Wales will need the experience and leadership of Ryan Jones.

The question for Howley is whether to play Jones in the second row or in place of Shingler, while two other former Wales captains, Gethin Jenkins and Matthew Rees, are in danger of being dropped. Jenkins, who has spent most of the season on Toulon's bench, is under pressure from Paul James, while the hooker Richard Hibbard is back in full training.

"We will have to meet passion with passion in Paris and our selection will show how we intend to play the game," Edwards said. "We are quietly determined and France's result in Italy is immaterial: we have to get our own game in order."

Powered by article was written by Paul Rees, for on Monday 4th February 2013 20.22 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


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