Howley accepts the pressure
Rob Howley has accepted that reigning RBS 6 Nations champions Wales are under pressure as they prepare to tackle Samoa on Friday night.
- Related Content
Wales' interim head coach will send out a team showing eight changes from the one that collapsed to a 26-12 defeat against Argentina in Cardiff last weekend.
Sam Warburton, Gethin Jenkins and Rhys Priestland - all key players during last season's successful Six Nations and World Cup campaigns - are among those who drop to the bench for Samoa's visit to the Millennium Stadium.
Ryan Jones will lead Wales for a record 29th time, while a piercing spotlight is set to focus on young talent like fly-half Dan Biggar and openside flanker Justin Tipuric as Howley's men target an immense improvement before tackling world champions New Zealand next week.
"We are always disappointed when the expectations of performance fall below a level," said Howley, who confirmed that lock Ian Evans sat out training on Thursday because of a back spasm, but he is still expected to start.
"There has been a lot of straight-talking between the coaches and players.
"We are under pressure and we will come out fighting. I am sure you will see a performance that every supporter will be proud of in Wales."
Samoa have not beaten Wales since the 1999 World Cup - a game that Howley played in and was captain - but the South Sea Islanders' last two losses were only by a combined total of 11 points, while their opponents scored just one try on each occasion.
"If you look at our fixtures over the four-week autumn period, I think a common-sense approach is needed," he added.
"We are never able to pick the same XV, and if you look back over the last three or four years, whether it has been the Samoa game, Fiji game or Canada game, we've made changes for this fixture.
"We have stuck to our guns. We have kept on talking about our strength in depth in the squad, and tomorrow gives a great opportunity for the likes of Paul James, Justin Tipuric, Dan Biggar and Ashley Beck.
"It is only a six-day turnaround from the Argentina game, and there is a desire to look at those players who have been in form at their regions and see if they can transfer that form from the regional stage on to the international stage."
Wales lost their way in the second-half against Argentina, with the combined effect of seeing centre Jamie Roberts and lock Alun-Wyn Jones depart through injury contributing towards exposing deficiencies the Pumas ruthlessly punished.
While Roberts has recovered from concussion to start on Friday, Jones could miss much of Wales' Six Nations title defence later this season as shoulder surgery beckons, and Howley accepts that leadership throughout the team remains a work in progress.
"Sam Warburton has been a special player and he is a special player. He is still captain," Howley added, in response to questions about handing Warburton an unfamiliar number 20 jersey.
"And Ryan Jones has been a special player. It will be a great accolade for him to lead the team tomorrow night and become Wales' most-capped captain.
"Ryan has been an integral member of the squad. He is like the father-figure of the whole squad, and his form for the Ospreys and Wales over the last 18 months has been exceptional.
"One thing we probably lacked against Argentina, having Alun-Wyn Jones and Jamie Roberts injured, was leadership, and that is about the number of leaders you have in a team.
"Wales is not about the one captain, it's about more leaders, whether it's the back-three, second-row or props. It is important you create leadership within a group.
"This is a very young group of players that has played a lot of international rugby in the last 12-18 months, and leadership is one area we need to keep working on and have players stepping up. That is important in international rugby."
Although less than half the Samoa XV started against Wales in a punishing World Cup pool clash 14 months ago, there remains huge potential for them to threaten an upset.
And they also have fly-half playmaker Tusi Pisi back on board. He enjoyed an outstanding World Cup campaign, but missed the Wales clash in Hamilton through injury.
"Samoa will bring an uncompromising, physical approach," Howley said.
"Look at the collisions in the World Cup game against them last year, and they put us under pressure in the set-pieces.
"They have some great players, and most of them are based in England and France. When we get the ball we must make sure we keep it. We have to play smart."
Wales: L Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues); A Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues), A Beck (Ospreys), J Roberts (Cardiff Blues), G North (Scarlets); D Biggar (Ospreys), M Phillips (Bayonne); P James (Bath), R Hibbard (Ospreys), A Jarvis (Ospreys), B Davies (Cardiff Blues), I Evans (Ospreys), R Jones (Ospreys, capt), J Tipuric (Ospreys), T Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons).
Replacements: K Owens (Scarlets), G Jenkins (Toulon), S Andrews (Cardiff Blues), L Charteris (Perpignan), S Warburton (Cardiff Blues), T Knoyle (Scarlets), R Priestland (Scarlets), S Williams (Scarlets).
Samoa: F Autagavaia; P Perez, G Pisi, P Williams, D Lemi (capt); T Pisi, K Fotuali'i; S Taulafo, O Avei, C Johnston, D Leo, F Paulo, O Treviranus, M Fa'asavalu, T Tuifua.
Replacements: T Paulo, V Afatia, J Johnston, T Fomai, J Su'a, J Leota, R Lilomaiava.