Ken Owens calls on Wales to restore pride after problems on and off the field
Captain Ken Owens wants Wales to “put pride back in the shirt” when they launch this season’s Guinness Six Nations Championship on Saturday.
Wales host world number one team Ireland following a miserable 12 months that delivered just three victories, while their defeats included humiliating home losses to Italy and Georgia.
And off the field, the Welsh Rugby Union has been rocked to its core by sexism and discrimination allegations in the organisation that are now set to be investigated by an independent taskforce.
The Principality Stadium will be packed to its 74,500 capacity as Wales aim to start head coach Warren Gatland’s second stint in charge by shredding the form book.
“It is disappointing what has come out of the past fortnight,” said Owens, who skippers his country for the first time.
“I would be lying if I said we hadn’t been talking about it within the squad, but at the end of the day we are in our own bubble as a Wales squad.
“The only thing we can do is concentrate on the rugby and what is coming on Saturday. At the end of the day that is what we are here to do.
“For us, the only thing we can control tomorrow is a performance, to put pride back into the Welsh shirt after what has been a tough couple of years with consistency.
“The only way we can do that as players is by delivering a performance that is worthy for the red shirt.”
Ireland have not won an away Six Nations game against Wales since 2013, losing four successive encounters.
But they arrive in the Welsh capital top of the world rankings and as favourites to land a first Six Nations title for five years.
Portugal ✈️ Cardiff #TeamOfUs | #GuinnessSixNations pic.twitter.com/FdBK8KpVm6
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) February 2, 2023
Owens added: “The way they play the game is high-tempo, everybody is on the same page and they have got threats all across the park.
“They will go in as favourites, I think. Everybody is writing us off as a team but we know what we expect from ourselves, as a squad and as individuals.
“We have asked for clarity from the coaches and they have delivered that, which will hopefully allow us to bring a really consistent performance with plenty of physicality.
“We are going to need to be on our money defensively and be a real tough team to beat.
“We are going to be a work in progress early on but there is enough quality and experience in the side for us to turn up tomorrow and put in a performance.”
Gatland oversaw a period of sustained success during his tenure in the Wales job between 2008 and 2019, a period that delivered four Six Nations titles, three Grand Slams and two World Cup semi-final appearances.
And while it appears unlikely that Wales can challenge the likes of Ireland and France this season, Gatland’s return has unquestionably increased optimism levels.
“There are definitely some storylines and sub-plots out there that people will talk about,” Owens said.
🎙 𝙒𝙖𝙧𝙧𝙚𝙣 𝙤𝙣 𝙒𝙖𝙡𝙚𝙨
Warren Gatland talks through his team for Ireland 👇 #WelshRugby pic.twitter.com/B7t9oUx0dx
— Welsh Rugby Union 🏴 (@WelshRugbyUnion) January 31, 2023
“We have chopped and changed, with ‘Gats’ coming back in and new coaches and players coming in. We have a lot of experience out there.
“The pressure is off us externally, but internally we put a lot of pressure on ourselves because we know our ability as a squad.
“It is going to be a great Test match and we will put pressure on ourselves to perform, put pride back in the shirt.”