Wales coach Howley counting on three wise men to crack Australia
20:44 GMT, 14 June 2012
Three words was all it took. Asked about the selection dilemmas facing Rob Howley, Warren Gatland's verdict was pretty conclusive in clarifying who exactly is in charge of Wales: 'Your call, mate.'
Gatland may have arrived in Melbourne ahead of the second Test against Australia on Saturday but interim coach Howley is still picking the team and he will do so for the remainder of the tour.
In charge: Rob Howley
Left to his own devices Howley's grand plan to take the series to a Sydney decider is to call for back-up in the shape of the Jones's – lock Alun-Wyn and No 8 Ryan.
Along with hooker Matthew Rees, the three changes to the pack bring nearly 200 caps with them and plenty of old-school guile to toughen up a side that was not 'streetwise' enough to win the first Test.
Howley is hoping their inclusion will bring the urgency and intensity that was so badly missing in the early stages last weekend.
Ospreys centre Ashley Beck – described as the form player of the year by Howley – comes into the midfield for only his second Test in place of Scott Williams.
Recall: Ryan Jones
Although Gatland did not interfere with team selection, Howley is still grateful for his silent support now that the head coach has rejoined the squad after fracturing more than 20 bones in both ankles. When he fell while cleaning windows at home in New Zealand it was unclear how long his rehabilitation would take, and even whether it might jeopardise his involvement in next year's Lions tour, but he is already out of a wheelchair and using crutches.
Howley said: 'I'm still interim head coach and it's great to have that opportunity when you've got one of the best coaches in world rugby alongside you in a supporting role. I spoke to him late last night and talked about the Test side. He said: “Your call, mate”. Oh cheers, Gats!
'But seriously it's great having that relationship with Warren and it's great to see him on his feet. He looks healthy. We haven't spoken about the extent of his game-day involvement yet but it's great to have him here in body and the conversations we have will help us prepare.'
Even with limited involvement, captain Sam Warburton believes the return of Gatland will help lift the players ahead of the crucial encounter against the Wallabies.
Halfpenny; Cuthbert, J Davies, Beck, North; Priestland, Phillips; Jenkins, Rees, A Jones, B Davies, AW Jones, Lydiate, R Jones, Warburton.
Replacements: Hibbard, James, Charteris, Tipuric, Webb, Hook, Williams.
Warburton said: 'He's hobbling around on his crutches, but he's getting from A to B. He's only been with us a short amount of time, but it's great that he's back in the squad. That will lift the players and the management I am sure.
'It's probably natural for him to step in but, whatever happens, we are just very happy that he is back with the squad now. It's great to see hm back on his feet again and with the squad. I am sure he has been fed up with being stuck on his couch back home.
'To see his face does give us a boost. Warren has had a big influence on a lot of players, particularly the younger ones for giving us a chance.
'Knowing what he has been through the last few months it will be great to get a win and cheer him up.'
Like his coach, Warburton believes the experience coming into the pack will help Wales gain parity in the battle of the breakdown and in particular help marshal the nuisance of David Pocock.
'Ryan is one of the most streetwise players I've played against,' Warburton said. 'He's very good when it comes to running lines and his work at the breakdown. I have a bit of banter with him when we play the Ospreys, telling him he cheats all the time. 'I think he will benefit us at the breakdown. He, Alun-Wyn and Matthew (Rees) bring a wealth of experience with them.'
With experience also comes the maturity not to be phased by the big occasion and Howley admitted that mental edge will be key for Wales as they still fight for their first win against the Wallabies on Australian soil for more than 40 years.
'One thing about the weekend is it's all about the top three inches, the brain. We all talk about how disappointed we were in the first 20 minutes but let's not forget we brought it back to 20-19 and we showed great character and fortitude. That mental mindset is so important.
'I had a laugh with Neil Jenkins saying that if we had been 17-3 down when we were playing for Wales 10 years ago then the final score would probably have been 45-10! 'But we've fronted up and come back and if we can start like that then we can put Australia under pressure.'