Howley hot on Wales’ discipline against Ireland

Wales want to put down an immediate marker in terms of their discipline when they face opening World Cup warm-up opponents Ireland on Saturday.

Assistant coach Rob Howley believes it will be a critical element of the World Cup campaign in September and October, when Wales find themselves in the same pool as England and Australia, with only two quarter-final places available.

“We have talked about discipline, and we have asked the players to look back at the first 20 minutes against Ireland in the Six Nations (last season),” he said.

Howley hot on Wales’ discipline against Ireland

Rob Howley

“That sets the standard in terms of accuracy, kicking, handling, defence and, more importantly, discipline. You cannot give away penalties in international rugby, and that is at set-pieces as well as offside.

“Come the World Cup, three points will be critical, and being able to build a score, which was crucial against Ireland. We want to give the referee nothing on Saturday to penalise us, because it will be an important factor in the World Cup.”

Wales will send four new caps – wing Eli Walker, centre Tyler Morgan, lock Dominic Day and flanker Ross Moriarty – into the sold-out Millennium Stadium clash.

And while a major focus is on that quartet, key to Wales’ performance in their first outing since they ran Six Nations opponents Italy ragged almost five months ago, will be the control of half-backs James Hook and Mike Phillips, who boast 170 caps between them.

“James has played particularly well from March onwards,” Howley added. “He is playing much squarer now.

“We talk about playing the game north-south not east-west, and that is key. If he plays north-south, so do our outside backs.

“Mike has a great opportunity on Saturday, and he knows he is under pressure to perform. It is great to have the experience of nine and 10 together, with younger backs in the line, and we hope they will manage the game.

“It is about the control element for Mike and the accuracy in his kicking game. We want to play high-octane and back our fitness.

“It is a big game – the first of the season – and some players have not played since the middle of May. It’s very exciting to have a new team to work with, particularly when you consider the young ones who have not had the opportunity to play in front of 75,000 at the Millennium Stadium.

“It will bring a different mental pressure to them, and that is what we need to find out. The World Cup is about playing under pressure, and we have to do that against Ireland.”

Wales head coach Warren Gatland looks set to reduce his current training squad by seven or eight players after a three-day north Wales camp next week, with Ireland in Dublin on August 29 the final game before he reveals the 31-man World Cup group.

Some players involved this weekend might not have another competitive chance this month to impress the coaching staff, but Howley said: “I do not like saying last chance.

“It is an opportunity for players to impress, and they have a great opportunity going into the World Cup. I am not that silly to say last-chance saloon, because it is not.”

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