Ben Foden is determined to do his talking on the pitch after being given a dressing down by Martin Johnson, the England manager, for speaking out of turn. Last November, the Northampton full-back said he was "livid" at being overlooked for the autumn internationals and he criticised the England management for a lack of feedback.
Foden's patience was tested again this week after Delon Armitage was retained in the England team for tomorrow's clash with Scotland, despite question marks over his form and fitness. But the 24-year-old succeeded in biting his tongue, helped no doubt by the fact that England's attack coach Brian Smith had taken time out to assure him that a first Test start is not far away. "After the autumn internationals I made the mistake of venting my frustrations," Foden recalled.
"Johnno phoned me up and said: "If you've got to comment, talk to us about it'. So that is one thing I have been able to do. "Obviously I am very disappointed I didn't get the call but Brian Smith told me it was very close and that I am pushing Delon to the limits. "That is all I needed to hear because it shows they are thinking about me and looking at me." Declan Kidney, the Ireland coach, admires the never-say-die attitude that he believes makes Wales formidable opponents in tomorrow's showdown at Croke Park.
The Welsh have lost two of their three matches to date but each game has been a thrilling spectacle as they conceded large leads before mounting a stirring fightback with mixed success. Kidney recalls last season's encounter at the Millennium Stadium when Stephen Jones missed a last-minute penalty to ignite Ireland's Grand Slam celebrations as evidence of a side that refuses to throw in the towel.
"Wales will be a lot like France in that any errors by our defensive line will be exploited," he said. "They're scoring a lot of points. They may have lost two but they're averaging more points than we are. We'll have to tighten up and match them in attack. "The thing I really admire about Wales is that they play to the 80th minute." Jonathan Thomas admits Wales have endured an "incredibly frustrating" campaign ahead of the salvage mission against Ireland in Dublin.
If Wales wreck Irish Triple Crown ambitions at Croke Park, they will have a fighting chance of finishing second in this season's tournament. Lose to the reigning Six Nations champions though, and Wales will find themselves in the wooden spoon mix next weekend when annual strugglers Italy visit Cardiff. "International rugby is about winning," said the Ospreys flanker Thomas, who will win his 54th cap in a Wales back-row shorn of injured skipper Ryan Jones.
"We know we are under-achieving. We are better than the table shows, and we should have beaten France and England. It is up to us to sort it out." Francois Trinh-Duc, the France fly-half, has promised that his team will play a more expansive game in Sunday's match against Italy. This change of strategy is "a strong wish" from Emile Ntamack, the assistant coach, the 23-year-old France playmaker said yesterday.
"Ntamack wants us to play more, to be less restrictive," he said. "We mustn't look down on the Italians and run the ball just for the sake of running it but maybe there will be more opportunities if we move them around and if we play more on the wings." * With agencies