Justin Tipuric returns to Wales team looking to end run of five straight defeats (Image: Getty Images)
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It has been born out of necessity, created to keep international rugby alive through coronavirus.
But try telling Wales that the Autumn Nations Cup is a contrived tournament of zero consequence.
In Dublin this evening Wayne Pivac’s side kick off the competition against Ireland. Losing does not bear thinking about.
It would put them behind the eight ball in a pool containing Six Nations champions England as well as minnows Georgia – problematic with the pool winner advancing to next month’s Twickenham final to face the top dog out of France, Scotland, Italy and Fiji.
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But of more immediate concern to the World Cup semi-finalists, it would be a SIXTH straight loss since Pivac took over from Warren Gatland.
“This tournament is vital for Wales to get the show back on the road,” admitted Welsh midfield great Jamie Roberts.
“Test rugby is about winning, let’s not dress it up as anything else. It’s about winning games and Wales haven’t done that.”
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Wales have found it tough since their World Cup campaign ended in semi-finals
(Image: Action Images via Reuters)
Not since 2013 have the Dragons lost six in a row and the cracks are starting to appear. Defence coach Byron Hayward this week paid with his job for 16 tries conceded in five games.
“Losing can become a habit,” said Roberts. “The pressure comes on and you can’t hide from it because there is no hiding place in Test rugby. You have to front up.
“Wales have taken a lot of flak and the boys are hurting. At times like this you either sink or swim. You embrace it or you let it get on top of you and it becomes a downward spiral.”
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Roberts hopes landmark caps for Alun Wyn Jones (150), George North (100th Wales/Lions) and Tomas Francis (50) will help galvanise his old team in Dublin.
But he says there is no greater motivation for a side crowned Grand Slam champions only last year than putting an end to the “hurt” of a nine-month losing run.
“The hurt of knowing you haven’t put on the park what you’re fully capable of sits with you,” he added. “Knowing you’ve lost a Test match and not delivered stirs away at you all week.
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Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones reaches the 150-cap milestone in Dublin
(Image: Offside via Getty Images)
“It gives you that extra five per cent and Ireland will not need me to tell them a wounded Wales is a very dangerous Wales.
“This is a team with players who have quality and resilience and who I expect to stand 10 feet tall walking onto that pitch.”
Roberts, part of the Amazon Prime Video commentary team, has England and France down as favourites to contest the final – and reckons defence coach Shaun Edwards is turning the French into world beaters.
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“Consistency and discipline has always been their letdown,” he said. “How often have we seen French sides go 20 points up then give away a red card or stupid penalties?
“If ever there’s a man to drill that it’s Shaun.”
France’s only concern this weekend is that Sunday’s clash with Fiji could be cancelled after two of the Islanders’ team tested positive for Covid. A decision is expected today.
Autumn Nations Cup Rugby Union is coming to Amazon Prime Video, exclusively broadcasting 13 out of 16 matches from 14 November including the tournament finals