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Sunday, June 26, 2022

‘Use that as fuel’: Biggar and Wales motivated by criticism in Six Nations | Six Nations 2022

Neil Jenkins has cited criticism, both within the camp and from external sources, as a motivating factor for the Wales captain, Dan Biggar, as he led the team to a much-needed victory against Scotland which revived their defence of the Six Nations title.

Biggar drop-kicked his team to a 20-17 win in Cardiff in their last match after a crescendo of criticism ensued from the champions’ crushing opening defeat by Ireland the week before.

When asked to pinpoint some of the attributes that have contributed to Biggar’s longevity at the highest level in the buildup to the match against England at Twickenham this weekend, Jenkins was refreshingly forthright.

“Sometimes you can use that as fuel,” the Wales kicking coach and former fly-half said of the judgments passed on the team. “No doubt Dan will use that to his advantage.”

Jenkins’s reply was unusual in that athletes and coaches routinely roll out platitudes in modern press conferences centred on “processes” and “controllables”. The aim is to be like Teflon, repelling the outside world from the sanctimony of the inner circle. But after the 29-7 defeat in Dublin, the clamour beyond the gate filtered through.

Much of the backlash focused on the apparent weakness of the tight five, particularly their inability to offer a threat while carrying. Speaking on the BBC’s Six Nations Special podcast, Sam Warburton, the former grand slam-winning captain,, was clear in his damnation. “Wales don’t have that front five who can carry and break the gainline,” he said.

Of course the opposition played a role but Wales’s tight five made three more carries and nine more metres in Edinburgh than they achieved in Dublin. They also secured clean ball from all 12 of their lineout throws with the tighthead Tomas Francis scoring from the back of a rolling maul.

Tomas Francis crosses the line against Scotland
Tomas Francis crosses the line against Scotland. Photograph: Andrew Fosker/Inpho/Shutterstock

“It wasn’t the criticism from outside [that spurred the team on], it was criticism from ourselves as a pack,” was Francis’s view. “We hadn’t turned up [against Ireland]. You just have to get the mindset right. Everyone in the squad is a good player. It’s about trying to get that cohesion as a pack and get in the game.”

Francis and Jenkins are aware of the cultural significance whenever Wales face England at Twickenham. But they have lost each of their past five games in south-west London. Their last win at the ground came in 2015, ending England’s run at their own World Cup at the group stage. “That was one of the best days of my career,” Francis said of his fourth international appearance.

If they are to relive that glorious day, Wales will need to match England’s mongrel. The set-piece and maul look potent but questions remain at midfield. Jenkins was non‑committal about who might fill that channel but acknowledged that they would have a difficult job keeping Manu Tuilagi quiet. The Sale centre looks primed to start and will cause havoc if he gets front-foot ball from Marcus Smith inside him.

This is why the performances of Francis and his meatier compatriots will be crucial. They will be bolstered by the likely return of Taulupe Faletau in the back row but, without ascendancy at the front line, the rest of the team may fold.

“Whoever plays for Wales has to have the mindset that you’re going to go and dominate,” Francis said. “[England] will be a great test. They have great forwards.”

He knows many of them well and has roots in England. Francis was born in York, attended the University of Leeds and represented Doncaster Knights, London Scottish and Exeter Chiefs before joining Ospreys last year.

He referenced Ellis Genge’s fondness for “mind games” in the scrum and commended Joe Marler’s “resurgence”. He also expressed his sympathy for his old club-mate in Devon, Luke Cowan-Dickie, whose mistake under the high ball proved decisive in England’s loss at Murrayfield.

Not that he will be concerned with that this week. As Jenkins stressed “you have to be incredibly physical” when playing at Twickenham. Having heard as much criticism as they can tolerate, Wales have all the fuel they need.

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