Rob Howley Has An Ace Up His Sleeve, But He Should Have Left It There Against England

The inclusion of George North – and the rejection of Taulupe Faletau – means Wales take on Scotland in bonny mood, argues Robin Davey. But he says Felatau’s stay in the bench suggests Howley knows that’s where he should have remained against England.

 

Wales fly to Edinburgh on Thursday – to confront rejuvenated Scotland head-on at Murrayfield on Saturday – in a rare state of optimism.

Encouraged by a vastly improved performance against England, even if denied victory almost at the death, interim coach Rob Howley was able to name a side showing just the one change.

And that is a pretty significant one with the return of fearsome wing George North, who has shown real signs of returning to his best after all his concussion issues.

More than that, there’s suddenly an almost embarrassment of riches in the Wales back row.

Who would have thought even a few months ago that Wales could afford to leave a player of the stature of Taulupe Faletau on the bench?

Granted, he’s only played one full game plus a cameo for new club Bath after successive knee injuries sidelined him for months, but such was the level of performance by the back row against England that Howley was left with little choice.

Flankers Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric were a pair of marauding, barnstorming flankers while Ross Moriarty at No 8 was a revelation, tackling himself into the ground before surprisingly being taken off in order to give Faletau some game time.

That was widely interpreted as a big mistake and it’s as if Howley has acknowledged that by retaining Moriarty in the starting line-up for Murrayfield.

Faletau has had to settle for a place on the bench, though now pretty much back to fitness – a big change for a player right up there among the best No.8s in the world alongside Keiran Reed and Billy Vunipola.

Faletau had gone through a spell when he was never injured, whether it was playing for Wales or for Newport Gwent Dragons, only to suffer those successive setbacks when he arrived at Bath .Maybe that’s a sign of the greater intensity of the English Premiership, but that’s another story.

Faletau now has 63 caps to his name and is joined on the bench for Saturday’s clash by 71-times capped Bath and ex-Dragons teammate Luke Charteris, also back from injury, a damaged wrist having kept him out.

That’s a pretty formidable pair to come off the bench if Wales have problems up front against the Scots.

That would, in fact, be a bad sign because while the Scots are playing a superb expansive style led by adventurous full back Stuart Hogg, they are vulnerable up front, especially in the scrums as the French proved.

So the way to victory for Wales surely has to be via a mighty effort by the pack. As Shaun Edwards acknowledged this week, that’s where all games are won and lost anyway, but it’s especially true in this case.

The Scots say they expect Wales to try to bully them and they’ll be prepared for that, but it’s one thing saying it and another trying to stop it.

The Scots are also without skipper and goal-kicking ace Greg Laidlaw while No.8 Josh Strauss is another absentee through injury  – a further boost for Wales.

Wales are undoubtedly invigorated by their performance against unbeaten England, Dan Biggar also answering his critics with a stirring performance.

If they are to retain any interest in the title victory is a must. Provided they are not sucked into the Scottish way of playing, provided they take them on up front and if there are no unwarranted substitutions, this time Wales ought to make it.

 

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