Six Nations 2013: Leigh Halfpenny brushes off talk of Wales crisis

James Callaghan was a Cardiff MP, as well as prime minister, when he stepped off a plane after flying to London from an economic conference in the Caribbean in 1979 and, after deflecting a question about widespread industrial action, prompted the headline: Crisis? What Crisis?

As the Wales full-back, Leigh Halfpenny, was asked to reflect on a run since last year's grand slam success in which the Six Nations champions have lost their last eight internationals, with their next three matches away from home, the Cardiff Blue also turned to the c-word.

"We still believe in ourselves and our ability," he said. "We are not in crisis: we have lost one game and the tournament is still wide open. We are the defending champions and that means something. We have to go out and play like we are champions."

Wales face France on Saturday in Paris and have conducted a lengthy post-mortem of Saturday's defeat by Ireland at the Millennium Stadium. Having talked in the buildup about the need to make a strong start, they were 30-3 down two minutes into the second half before rallying with three tries.

"The players are hugely disappointed about how they began the game," said the Wales attack coach, Mark Jones. "We placed considerable emphasis on the start but unfortunately we did not see any evidence of it. We have done some digging to find out why that was and we did not get enough good possession early on.

"We had prepared for Ireland's choke tackle but their execution of it was better than our response to it. The contact area is crucial in the modern game and we were far more effective in that area in the second half, scoring three tries and creating other opportunities we did not take."

Wales's centres Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies have been criticised for a lack of footballing skills but Jones, asked whether James Hook would be considered in the midfield, said he did not anticipate a change.

"Our centres have been very successful in recent years and the problem at the start against Ireland was not how we used the ball in the midfield but the supply of it," he said. "There are a few issues with Jonathan's passing and we are working on them. He is constantly striving to improve but skills are not a quick fix."

Jones expected the selection meeting to be long. "Do we give the players the opportunity to redeem themselves or do we freshen things up and bring in new blood? The coaches have decisions to make and they are not easy ones.

"My mindset is that the defending champions losing at home to Ireland should be a worry for other teams. When we get our game right we are very formidable and we should be the wounded animal this weekend, never mind France's result in Italy, looking to kick on from our second-half performance."

The flanker Thierry Dusautoir will captain France in the absence of the injured Pascal Papé this weekend. The only change in their squad of 23 from Rome is in the second row where Jocelino Suta replaces Papé.

Powered by article was written by Paul Rees, for The Guardian on Tuesday 5th February 2013 22.08 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


image: © Chris Brown