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Time for Wales to discover spirit of adventure

By South Wales Evening Post  |  Posted: February 26, 2013

Leigh Halfpenny has been dependable with the boot but is it time for the Welsh

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THE Welsh version of Happy Feet saw a couple of hundred red-robed supporters near the Flaminio railway station in Rome open their umbrellas and huddle together in a desperate attempt to protect themselves from the storm that lashed the Italian capital.

"We were like penguins," said one later.

Fairly happy penguins, no doubt, after seeing Wales continue their resurgence by defeating Italy.

No doubt the colony will be on their way north the weekend after next, heading for Edinburgh and hoping to see Wales maintain their improbable challenge for the Six Nations title.

But it's a strange one.

Wales have scored picture-book tries by their wings in the past two games, both set up by Dan Biggar, but their play has been conservative overall, stamped by a lack of ambition.

There has been plenty to admire but not a huge amount to fire the imagination.

In Rome airport on Sunday evening supporters spoke with pride about the way this side had turned their campaign around.

But there was also a perception among some that there are a few pieces missing from the jigsaw. That a bit more subtlety and derring-do wouldn't go amiss.

Rob Howley might beg to differ and could fairly argue there is nothing wrong with doing what it takes to get a job done in difficult conditions.

Throughout the years there have been countless examples of sportsmen tailoring their performances to suit the conditions.

Rewind to 1980 and Viv Richards coming to the crease against Pakistan in Multan, on a brute of a wicket that had stopped anyone else in the match scoring more than 60. The great man didn't try to set about the bowlers with the violence and flamboyance that marked his career.

Instead, he took seven hours to craft a magnificent 120, showing discipline, defiance and supreme technique in an innings that allowed the West Indies to win the series.

Then think back to 1996 and the Spanish Grand Prix and the greatest drive of Michael Schumacher's career.

As conditions went from bad to worse in Barcelona, the German didn't spin around the track with music blaring, one hand on the wheel and using the other to wave to his mates in the crowd.

He simply operated at maximum efficiency and did the basics to perfection.

For sure, doing what it takes has a lot to be said for it.

And there is no doubt that winning ugly is preferable to glorious failure.

Anyone up for a debate about that ought to remember the sense of frustration when a Welsh side went to Paris in 1997 and played all the rugby, with Allan Bateman slicing through the French defence at will, only to lose because they didn't take their chances.

Later, the talk was all about Wales lacking a killer streak.

Well, over the past two games they have shown a clinical edge, but the question is whether there is more to come and whether Howley's side can kick on and develop their attacking play over the remainder of the championship.

It isn't as if they do not have options, with the likes of Lee Byrne, James Hook and Eli Walker in the squad.

The midfield is a creativity free-zone and Wales are missing the flair that Shane Williams used to bring with his ability to roam the backline, popping up in the centre to conjure openings for Byrne, who invariably picked the right angle.

Leigh Halfpenny's general play at the back is sound, and his goal-kicking is outstanding, but there is scope for him to sharpen his attacking play, a point made by the BBC's Jonathan Davies on Sunday night.

His consistency and reliability make him one of the team's big assets, but there is an argument to be had that Wales might look a better side with him on the wing and Byrne at No. 15.

Of course, no-one should expect that to happen for Murrayfield.

Changes will be kept to the minimum, with coaches the world over reluctant to tinker too much with winning teams.

The Welsh centres are pretty much bombproof in selection terms, anyway, and the suspicion would be the same applies to Halfpenny and the full-back role.

But if Wales want to develop more of an all-court game they need to keep their minds open to all options.

That said, the player under most pressure for Scotland is a forward.

Andrew Coombs hasn't done much wrong, but Alun Wyn Jones is close to being match-fit again and the Osprey is a Lions-quality performer whose inclusion makes Wales a better team.

You'd imagine squad captain Sam Warburton would have to wait for his chance.

Revised tackle stats for Rome suggest Justin Tipuric was the top performer in that department with 16 hits and two misses.

If he is left out, does Warburton reclaim the captaincy from the inspirational Ryan Jones? Why risk upsetting the delicate chemistry that has got Wales winning again?

Howley will be delighted at the character his side have shown.

They have rediscovered themselves in defence and haven't conceded a try in more than three hours of rugby, with their back row of Ryan Jones, Toby Faletau and Tipuric to the fore.

In Rome, their front row also roared out a message to those who had been questioning their credentials.

Gethin Jenkins deservedly received much praise for his efforts against Martin Castrogiovanni, but the most heartening feature of the encounter at Stadio Olimpico was the return of Adam Jones to his unrelenting best.

Alongside the impressive Richard Hibbard, Jones helped make a terrible mess of countless Italian set-pieces, Andrea Lo Cicero unable to match his power.

Had the Osprey been pushing against a giant oak tree on the day, you really wouldn't have bet much on the tree's chances.

In a championship that looks to be England's for the taking given the points they have accumulated, there isn't a side who are head and shoulders better than the others.

Wales will be keen to go into their final match, against England on March 16, on the back of three successive wins.

That would be some achievement.

If it could be accompanied by a dot more adventure, it would be even better.

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