Today’s rugby headlines as Wales internationals concerned by empty seats amid fear fans have ‘lost a bit of faith’

Here are your rugby morning headlines for Monday, 14 March.

Former Wales stars offer verdict on lack of fans

A host of former Wales internationals have offered their verdict on the disappointing crowd for Wales’ Friday night clash with France.

An 8pm kick-off on a Friday evening and tickets being priced from £100 and above meant that the attendance for what would normally be a sell-out was just 63,208 – more than 10,000 under capacity.

And ex-Wales stars Sam Warburton, Jonathan Davies and Tom Shanklin have all offered their opinions on the matter.

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“The two anthems were brilliant,” Warburton said on BBC’s Rugby Special. “So anyone who was in the stadium, the French anthem was amazing. The Welsh anthem was good. And that was with 10,000 people shy of capacity.

“People are blaming TV times and Friday night. I’ve been at the stadium plenty of times on a Friday and it’s been packed out and bouncing.

“No disrespect, but when Wales have played Italy in the past, it’s happened. When Wales are playing a Tier Two nation in an November series, then you quite regularly see 60,000.

“But never a Six Nations game against Tier One opposition have we had a crowd like that. I was a little bit concerned by that.

“As a player you feel a bit disappointed when you run out and see 60,000. It’s still a lot, but you know there should be 75,000.

“I’m not sure if some fans have lost a little bit of faith because Wales haven’t been as successful as they have in previous years, but it’s an area of ​​concern of the WRU having that many unsold tickets on Friday night.”

“It’s difficult,” added former dual-code international Davies on Scrum V.

“Tickets are expensive and Friday night is very, very difficult. Ireland and England have said they don’t want it. Television audience is big on a Friday so there’s a balance. The union have to make a decision.

Also on Scrum V, former Wales center Shanklin admitted that he’d rather not see another Friday night game in Cardiff.

“Six Nations historically is a weekend sport,” he said.

“I’d rather have it on a Sunday than a Friday night. You can see why the stadium is empty as young kids won’t go for such a late kick-off.

“The only thing I’d say is that if you have a Sunday game, you have a shorter rest week. But I’d still like to see a Six Nations game on a weekend.”

Shanklin calls for changes to spark Wales attack

As well as his views on Friday night rugby, Shanklin also offered his thoughts on how to improve Wales’ struggling attack.

For the first time in a home Six Nations match since 2009, Wales failed to score a try as France kept them from crossing the whitewash on Friday.

And Shanklin believes that Wales might need to look to more creative talent like Willis Halaholo or Ioan Lloyd to spark their backline to life.

“We created one clear opportunity and we couldn’t take it,” said the former Cardiff center.

“It’s clear to see what we were doing, we were going after Ntamack off scrum and lineout – trying to get over the gainline.

“That requires quick ball to strike out wide. After three or four phases, we look a little bit lost, players not quite sure where to go.

“I think if we can’t collectively break down teams in units, whether it be backs or phase play, then we have to look at selection.

“We have to look at players like Halaholo. People that can create with footwork.

“Ioan Lloyd, I know he’s not in the squad, but he’d be that type of player who could create something out of nothing like Shane did for years.

“Because at the moment, as a unit, we don’t look like we know properly how to attack and we’re not manipulating defenses enough.”

Eddie: Another fifth place unacceptable for England

England coach Eddie Jones says the prospect of another fifth-place Six Nations finish would be unacceptable.

Defeat to Ireland means they can finish no higher than third when the tournament finishes next week.

And, just like last year when only Italy sat below them, another fifth place could be on the cards.

When asked about the prospect of finishing fifth, he said: “It’s not good enough, why would it be good enough?

“We’re only going to get better and we’ll do that by working hard on the field.

“We’ve taken massive steps forward. Obviously, our aim was to win the championship. We’re disappointed we haven’t, but sometimes circumstances mean the results don’t mimic the performances. The results will catch up.”

Navidi surprised by immediate Wales recall

Josh Navidi has admitted he was surprised by his involvement after making his return to Test rugby on Friday night.

Having been out injured since before the autumn internationals, Navidi was called straight into Wayne Pivac’s starting XV after just one match for Cardiff.

Despite repaying the faith of Pivac with a typically industrial performance, Navidi admits he was shocked to even get the call-up in the first place.

“It was beyond my expectations, really,” said the back-row. “I didn’t realize I was going to get called in.

“I was looking for Cardiff first, and I knew being out for four and a half months, I needed to just put in the work, make sure my shoulder was right and strong.

“I got a hit-out against Ulster, and then I got a surprise phone call the next day. You grab it with both hands.

“I didn’t realize I was going to play – I thought I was just going to come in to train. It was nice to get back out there.

“International rugby is a lot quicker, but I felt my lungs and legs were there. Still maybe, to me personally, I am probably five per cent off, but I always say that my third game is when I come into my stride.

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“Fingers-crossed, all the hard work has been done and I am back to 100 per cent.

“I am not too sure what team selection will be, but fingers crossed I will get the nod again.

“I haven’t missed that much rugby for Cardiff – we’ve still got 12 games left – but obviously missing the autumn and start of the Six Nations is always disappointing.

“There is a still a lot of rugby to be played, the shoulder is feeling strong. I’ve had the test and bangs on it now, and it is feeling good.”

Spain qualify for first World Cup in 24 years

Spain have qualified for their first men’s Rugby World Cup in 24 years.

A 33-28 win against Portugal on Sunday was enough for Spain to advance as the second European qualifiers, after Georgia’s spot was confirmed on Thursday following Russia’s ban from qualification.

Spain will face world champions South Africa, Scotland, Ireland and an unconfirmed Asia-Pacific qualifier in Pool B.

Their only other men’s World Cup appearance came in 1999, when they lost all three of their pool games.

“It’s been a long journey and a very tough qualification process,” said Spain head coach Santiago Santos.

“We lost our first three games and after that, we have won six in a row. The performance of the team was amazing and we are very excited to be going to the Rugby World Cup.”

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