Six Nations 2014: Easterby backs under-fire Priestland

Wales' Rhys Priestland
Wales' Rhys Priestland

Scarlets boss Simon Easterby has defended Rhys Priestland following criticism in the wake of Wales' 26-3 Six Nations defeat by Ireland.

Easterby says Ireland's pack provided a superior platform to fly-half Priestland's opponent Jonny Sexton.

"He [Priestland] didn't really have much of a platform in front of him," said Easterby of last Saturday's clash.

Priestland says Wales must "front up" against France in Cardiff on Friday, 21 February.

France have won their opening two games in the tournament and Easterby says Priestland should not bear the brunt of flak following Wales' defeat in Dublin.

"It was particularly unfair given that he didn't really have much of a platform in front of him," said former Ireland flanker Easterby.

"Usually they [critics] go after the easy target and the number 10 is usually that easy target.

"So... I'm sure that Rhys is - like he always is after a game - he beats himself up about his performance if he feels like it's not good enough.

"I don't think he was maybe given the platform that Jonny Sexton was."

Priestland has turned his attention to the forthcoming clash against France.

"We have to front up because they won their first two games," said Priestland.

"They have looked good, so we know it is going to be tough and they have some fantastic players.

"When they click, they can tear teams apart. We will have to be at our best and it is going to be a challenge, especially after the disappointment of last Saturday.

"It will be interesting to see how we bounce back."

Coach Warren Gatland's reigning champions beat France in their last two tournament meetings, having lost to them in the 2011 Rugby World Cup semi-final.

Wing George North scored a late try to give Wales a 16-6 victory in Paris last season, while wing Alex Cuthbert scored the only try in the 16-9 success in Cardiff in 2012.

Wales must win to stay in contention for a third successive Six Nations title.

Even coach Warren Gatland admitted Wales' display in their loss to Ireland was one of the worst of his six-tournament reign.

The coach said his Wales side were "thoroughly outplayed" by Ireland at the Aviva Stadium.

And Priestland made no excuses for the manner of the defeat/

"It was a very bad day at the office," said Priestland. "We had a game plan, but we couldn't execute it. We got beaten in most areas across the field.

"When that happens, you don't get the results you are looking for. It was a very disappointing day.

"Whenever you lose for Wales, it is very disappointing, especially in the Six Nations.

"People made a lot of effort to go over there [to Ireland] to support the team and it wasn't the performance we expected from ourselves and I am sure they didn't expect it from us either."

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