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Rob Howley Pinpoints Jamison Gibson-Park As The Man Wales Must Stop

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By David Parsons

Rob Howley knows a good scrum half when he sees one and he certainly likes what he’s seen from Ireland’s Jamison Gibson-Park.

The New Zealand-born No 9 has become a lynchpin in the Irish side with his speed of pass, running game and tactical nous.

Howley won 59 Welsh caps during his career and played in two Tests on two tours with the British & Irish Lions.

He was one of the outstanding scrum halves of his generation and has worked with Mike Phillips, Rhys Webb, Tomos Williams as Welsh coach and Connor Murray, Ben Youngs and Ali Price with the Lions.

Now he has to try to find a way to slow down Gibson-Park, and the Irish side, at the Aviva Stadium in Round 3 of the Six Nations this weekend.

“He is absolutely one of the key men for us to look at. He’s a running threat, as is his ability to kick and pass,” said Howley.

“His game management has definitely improved. The cohesion he has with Leinster, who have a significant number of players I the Irish squad, is also beneficial.

“I know he now has a Munster outside half to play with, but he just knows where players are. The benefit you have with him is his experience and the speed at which he is able to play the game and make decisions.

“That’s something we’re very mindful of, although I thought we defended Alex Mitchell very well in the England game and they’re similar types of players. It comes down to the ability for him to get speed of ball.

“If we can create some havoc and chaos in and around those contacts, and slow down their ball down, then it will make it a different challenge for him. That’s one we’ll try and present on Saturday.

Ireland have recorded the quickest average ruck speed in attack in the Six Nations to date this year (3.3s), while in defence, Wales have slowed down the opposition breakdown more than any other team, with opposition rucks taking 5.1 seconds to complete on average.

Add in the fact the Welsh side have conceded just nine penalties in their two games so far, fewer than any other team, it shows they are doing some things right.

On the other hand, Ireland have conceded the most penalties in their two wins over France and Italy (24). Warren Gatland’s side are also the only team to have been awarded 20+ penalties this campaign (23).

Howley’s return to the coaching ticket in Wales has seen him take over the duties of coaching in the contact area. He has found some enthusiastic students thus far.

New Wales captain Dafydd Jenkins has hit 68 attacking rucks in two games, the most of any player and 11 more than Ireland’s Caelan Doris and Scotland Scott Cummings in second place.

New prop Corey Domachowski is the only player to hit 20+ attacking rucks and maintain a 100% effectiveness rate, clearing out or securing each of the 27 rucks he’s hit.

“International rugby right now is about speed – speed of decision, speed of action. We have to be there in every moment on Saturday because Ireland like to play at speed and they’re comfortable with the ball,” added Howley.

“When we get the ball, we have to make sure we keep it as long as possible. And then we have to create pressure in a different way.

“There’s been a change of mind-set for us in terms of our height and speed in the contact area. If those two elements are to the fore on Saturday, we’ll hopefully be able to keep the ball and stress the defensive ability of Ireland.

“The contact area is a bit of a mindset and it’s making sure we’ve got our mindset ready for kick-off on Saturday. Speed and having no separation in the contact area is huge now.

“If we can beat the threat to the ball, then we can make sure we can play off it quickly. If we can play off it quickly, defences don’t have time to set.

“You saw more evidence of that in the second half against Scotland and the first half against England. The challenge for us is to put together those two halves and we might win a game.

“Ireland have a number of jackalers and they’re very, very strong in the contact area. We have to be strong there to make sure we’re able to play a multi-phase attacking game.

“If we don’t keep hold of the ball, the unstructured part of the game goes against us, and they’ve got some decent back-three players – James Lowe in particular – and they can hurt you in terms of field position.

“Lowe has got a hell of a left foot. So, it’s important that we’re able to play our multi-phase attack, but in the right areas as well.”

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