rugby

Wales captain sure team can find best form for Six Nations

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Associated Press
1/23/2013 10:24:29 AM
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LONDON -- With no head coach, a mounting injury list and the team on a seven-test winless run, Wales appears to be in disarray heading into the defence of its Six Nations title.

Its captain thinks differently.

"People are talking about Welsh rugby as if it has completely gone down to the pan (but) it is easily recoverable," Sam Warburton said Wednesday, speaking at the official launch of the northern-hemisphere competition.

"You don't become a bad side overnight, just like you don't become a good one."

Statistics can be misleading. True, Wales hasn't won a test since capturing a third Grand Slam in eight years in the Six Nations last March, and losing four home games in a row in the autumn internationals -- one of them against Samoa -- left the team at a low ebb and out of the world's top eight.

However, four of those seven defeats came against Australia with a combined losing margin of 13 points and the Welsh were more than a match for world champion New Zealand for 50 minutes of the 33-10 loss in November.

England and France may be seen as the stand-out teams going into the latest installment of the Six Nations but Wales has a habit of saving its best for the tournament.

"If you look at the last few years, they have probably been the most successful team in this tournament and throughout that period their autumn results haven't been great," interim Scotland coach Scott Johnson said. "So I wouldn't read too much into it. They have an amazing ability to peak when they need to. They have quality players. If they get their best players on the pitch they are a very good side."

That, though, has been the problem for the Welsh in recent matches.

A raft of leading players were missing in the autumn and the list of absentees carries over into 2013, with locks Bradley Davies, Luke Charteris and Alun-Wyn Jones potentially missing the entire Six Nations and a potential second-row combination of Ian Evans and Ryan Jones also carrying injuries. Flanker Dan Lydiate -- the player of the 2012 Six Nations -- is battling to be fit for the end of the tournament.

With Warren Gatland on British and Irish Lions duty until the tour of Australia starting June, backs coach Rob Howley has taken over again as interim coach for the Six Nations and will have full control over selection.

"He (Gatland) won't be involved," Howley said. "There has to be clarity in terms of the Lions. Warren is on Lions duty. He is coming to watch Wales against Ireland as head coach of the British and Irish Lions."

Warburton has been talked up as a potential Lions captain for the Australia tour and leading his country to a successful Six Nations defence will do his chances no harm.

"Players know, if they are being honest, that the Six Nations is going to be a shop window for the Lions," Warburton said. "But from a Welsh perspective we've had seven games when the results haven't gone our way, and everyone's focus is to make sure we get back to winning ways."

Wales' first game of the Six Nations is at home to Ireland on Feb. 2.

Sam Warburton (Photo: Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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