Cardiff: Wales coach Rob Howley refused to bow to public pressure for wholesale change by naming an unaltered match-day squad for Friday’s Six Nations game against Ireland, insisting the team did not become “bad overnight”.
After an opening win over Italy, Wales have gone on to lose to England and Scotland, the team and Howley finding themselves under intense scrutiny after a particularly disappointing second-half capitulation against the Scots.
But Howley insisted on Wednesday that his experienced team deserved another chance, with Wales seeking to avoid three consecutive Six Nations defeats for the first time since 2007.
“We felt it was important the same group of players had the opportunity to go out and perform on Friday so we have named an unchanged match-day squad,” said Howley, named interim head coach as Warren Gatland prepares to lead the British and Irish Lions on the summer tour to New Zealand.
“Friday night is an opportunity for us. There is a lot of experience in our group and you don’t become a bad team overnight. We want to show what we can do and that experience will be very important this week.
“We know we need to be more clinical and we need to execute better under pressure and we have been working hard on that during the last few weeks.”
Justin Tipuric will win his 50th cap at openside, lining up alongside Sam Warburton and Ross Moriarty in the back-row. Captain Alun Wyn Jones and Jake Ball continue their partnership in the second-row with Rob Evans, Ken Owens and Tomas Francis named in the front-row.
Ospreys pair Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar start at half-back with Scarlets duo Scott Williams and Jonathan Davies partnering in the midfield. Liam Williams, George North and Leigh Halfpenny comprise the back-three.
Scott Baldwin, Nicky Smith, Samson Lee, Luke Charteris and Taulupe Faletau provide the forward cover from the bench, with Gareth Davies, Sam Davies and Jamie Roberts the backline replacements.
Wales have won just one of their last four Six Nations matches against Ireland, a narrow 23-16 victory in Cardiff in 2015, and Howley acknowledged that the Joe Schmidt-coached Irish, who this year suffered a surprise loss to Scotland before bouncing back to beat Italy and France, would be tough opponents.
“Ireland are one of the in-form sides in world rugby and are coached very well and packed with experience and there are a number of interesting matchup across both teams,” the former Wales scrum-half said.
“We always say we are fortunate to have the best supporters in the world and we are eager to put in a performance for them under the lights at Principality Stadium on Friday.”