Ken Owens relishing Wales’ clash with France after Italy win
Ken Owens says that Wales will relish time “out of the goldfish bowl” when they prepare to tackle Guinness Six Nations heavyweights France.
A 33-strong Wales squad headed from Rome to Nice for five days on the Mediterranean coast after a morale-boosting victory over Italy.
Wales’ 29-17 success was their first win in four games since Warren Gatland returned for his second stint as head coach.
And it came following a demanding period on and off the pitch, with Wales’ losing run being accompanied by contractual and financial uncertainty in the Welsh regional game.
Wales players also had their own issues such as the contentious former 60-cap national selection rule and fixed-variable contracts, leading to the prospect of a strike before England’s Cardiff visit last month.
Although a strike was averted and the England game went ahead as scheduled, the whole saga left its mark.
“Justin Tipuric (Wales flanker) said it was about getting back to enjoying it, and I felt we did that,” Wales captain Owens said.
“There has been a lot going on in the last six or seven weeks on and off the field.
“We’ve worked hard in the group, and it was good to see that enjoyment, working hard for each other when we were under the pump. We will grow from this.
“We will go to Nice now and have four or five days’ preparation out of the goldfish bowl, which will be great.
“We will concentrate on the rugby, work hard and turn up in Paris trying to get a win.
“There has perhaps been a bit of confidence lacking over the last few weeks, but we were patient and we problem-solved.
“Italy didn’t disappoint, but we stuck to our game-plan. The first half was pretty much ideal with what we wanted to do, but the second half early on, they won some collisions and showed how talented they are.”
As skipper, Owens had been the public face of the squad during an off-field saga that engulfed the Welsh game.
And after claiming only a fourth victory in the last 16 Tests, Owens was quick to praise the togetherness of the squad.
“It (Italy win) meant a lot to me, but it is not about me, it is about the group,” he added.
“That togetherness, that tightness as a squad and management, it doesn’t happen overnight, and this was a victory for the whole squad.”
Stopping France will be a different proposition, though, with Wales having lost four on the bounce against Les Bleus and now tackling a team buoyant following a spectacular 53-10 demolition of England at Twickenham.
Liam Williams, Josh Adams and Scott Baldwin will require fitness checks in Nice after suffering knocks against Italy, but Wales left the Italian capital in good shape overall.
“We have got a talented group of players, a lot of experience, and we will be confident going to Paris,” Owens said.
“They are one of the best teams in the world and they are on a phenomenal run, but we have nothing to fear and nothing to lose.”
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