Six Nations 2017: What now for unhappy Rob Howley and Wales?

By Richard WilliamsBBC Wales Sport

It's usually a difficult thing reading the body language of captains and coaches after rugby matches.

The players, winners or losers, always look shattered while the coaches try their best to be inscrutable, say nice things about their opponents and try not to do anything to belittle the team they're playing next.

England's Eddie Jones doesn't fit the stereotype, but for most it's true.

However, after Wales' second-half capitulation to a resurgent Scotland at Murrayfield the contrast between the winner Vern Cotter and vanquished Rob Howley could not have been more stark.

Cotter - up first - sat bolt upright and tried to remain expressionless, just occasionally letting his guard slip to crack a joke in the understated manner beloved of New Zealand rugby coaches.

Howley was a different animal.

The man tasked with guiding Wales while Warren Gatland prepares for this summer's British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand has a lot on his plate.

Leaning forward and speaking directly into one of the two microphones to the point where his voice distorted into what broadcasters call "popping", the former scrum-half did not look or sound like a happy man.

Not angry, but clearly frustrated.

Three Wales points in two second halves

His side's first loss to Scotland in a decade leaves Wales with two defeats from three matches in the 2017 Six Nations with games to come against Ireland at home on 10 March and France in Paris on 18 March.

That's Ireland, who beat the All Blacks in the autumn of 2016 and saw off France in Dublin in their latest Six Nations outing - and France, who beat a resurgent Scotland in Paris earlier in February.

It's a tough run-in for a side who have managed a total of 29 points in their past two Six Nations games with just three points coming in the second halves of those defeats by England and Scotland.

The irony is that things were going swimmingly in the first half against Scotland until a six-point turnaround just before the interval.

Halfpenny's missed kick - was that pivotal?

Leigh Halfpenny
Leigh Halfpenny missed a penalty kick late in the first half

Leigh Halfpenny missed a penalty which would have put Wales 16-6 ahead in the 37th minute and before the interval Finn Russell kicked one for Scotland which meant the lead at half-time was four points instead of 10.

It was a momentum swing from which Wales did not recover as Scotland delivered on their promise to turn heroic defeats into glorious victories.

Howley's assessment was blunt and to the point.

"We just weren't accurate enough, were we?" he said.

"I thought we made it a little bit easier in second half for Scotland, we've turned the ball over too many times.

Wales in the 2017 Six Nations
Sunday, 5 February: Italy 7-33 Wales
Saturday, 11 February: Wales 16-21 England
Saturday, 25 February: Scotland 29-13 Wales
Friday, 10 March, 20:05 GMT: Wales v Ireland
Saturday, 18 March, 14:45 GMT: France v Wales

"We were quite dominant first half, probably not clinical enough with a couple of opportunities, but in terms of the accuracy of the breakdown the intensity we needed, we didn't have it.

"The accuracy in the execution of skills is something that we need to continue to work on because the number of times we turned the ball over and the opportunities - the three-on-twos or the four-on-threes - you have to take, and we didn't do that."

Those were perhaps the reasons - for the second game running - Wales struggled to turn dominance into points. And without a sufficient buffer they were quickly overhauled when Scotland hit their straps.

For all the talk of the pivotal weekend of the tournament and the rebirth of Scottish rugby, there is a fear in Wales that this season could be a watershed.

Liam Williams celebrates the opening try at Murrayfield
Wales wing Liam Williams celebrates the opening try at Murrayfield

With the 2012 Grand Slam and 2013 championship wins now consigned to history, this team is at a crossroads.

There will be calls in Wales for changes and the blooding of new players, but that presents Howley and his backroom staff with a dilemma to which he alluded during his media conference.

He concedes that Wales' title challenge is over, but another defeat would make this Wales' least successful campaign since 2010 when they won two of their five matches.

He did not sound like a man ready to experiment.

Six Nations 2017: Momentum shifted at Murrayfield - Wales captain Jones

"Look, it's about playing for Wales, you're playing in a championship and we've got huge respect for the Six Nations and players want to perform to the best they can and they've got another opportunity," he added.

Same squad, another chance and he'll be hoping for a different outcome.

Things can change as we saw in the second half at Murrayfield.

Howley's task is to get them to change in his team's favour before Ireland and their emerald army of supporters arrive for a frisky Friday night out in Cardiff on 10 March.

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