Wales have to up their game against France this weekend if they are to repeat their Grand Slam success of 2008, hooker Matthew Rees has admitted. The 31-year-old made an accomplished return to international duty in the 24-3 victory over Italy at the Millennium Stadium. The former Wales captain has endured a frustrating last six months, a serious neck injury forced him out of the World Cup before a calf strain ruled him out of the Six Nations until Saturday. Scarlets team-mate Ken Owens and the Ospreysí Ebbw Vale-born Huw Bennett proved more than able deputies to Walesí former number one.
With Bennett ruled out with a calf problem of his own and Owens having to come on as a second-half replacement for 2009 Lions star Rees against Italy, he was just glad to get back into the thick of things and given the chance to be Walesí first-choice hooker. "It has been a frustrating time for me with the injuries, before the World Cup and the Six Nations, but it was just great to get back out there and have some game time and hopefully Iíll take part against France on Saturday," said the Tonyrefail-born 2008 Grand Slam winner. "I think Kenís a great player and he had a good game in the win over England at Twickers two weeks ago and Benny had a good World Cup and played well against Ireland last month, so itís good competition at the moment."
With his physical presence and vast experience, Wales are likely to start with Rees for their Grand Slam decider with Les Bleus at the weekend and he knows they will have to up the ante for the French after a patchy victory over a limited Italy. "We know weíve got to step up another gear on Saturday if we want to beat France," said Rees, who is set to win his 50th cap at the weekend. "Weíve definitely got that extra gear. Emotionally, itís going to be huge against France." And the former Celtic Warriors man thinks the fierce competition for places within the Wales squad acts as a powerful incentive.
"The biggest thing for us at the moment is that no-oneís position is safe," he said. "Itís keeping every single player on his toes. Thatís the biggest thing in the direction we are going in. "I donít think weíve had that strength in depth in the past." Talking about the Italy win, Rees had a pot-shot at referee George Clancy, who made some baffling calls in what many pundits thought a poor performance by the Irish official. "It was frustrating for us because we had so much possession and territory," he said.
"We just wanted to play and unfortunately the ref didnít allow us to do that. "But youíve got to give credit to Italy as well. They targeted us at the breakdown on a few occasions and got away with it. "But we came away with a good result. So weíll take that and look forward to the weekend."