Justin Tipuric: Ireland and England 'Six Nations favourites'

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Justin Tipuric scores fine try for Wales

England and Ireland are the 2017 Six Nations favourites, says Wales open-side flanker Justin Tipuric.

He scored a stunning try as Wales beat South Africa 27-13 on Saturday.

Wales were heavily criticised following their opening defeat by Australia and unimpressive displays in wins over Argentina and Japan.

England and Ireland have enjoyed greater plaudits and Tipuric said: "There are going to be up there as favourites for the Six Nations."

Wales' 2016 autumn internationals
3 NovemberLost 8-32 to Australia
12 NovemberBeat Argentina 24-20
19 NovemberBeat Japan 33-30
26 NovemberBeat South Africa 27-13

He added: "It's going to be tough for us, but everybody loves an underdog."

Ireland beat Australia on Saturday to add to historic wins over New Zealand and South Africa in 2016.

England have also shone, their latest successes being wins over the Springboks, Fiji and Argentina and hopes of also toppling the Wallabies on Saturday 3 December.

Michael Cheika's tourists opened their now-failed Grand Slam tour bid by humbling Wales 32-8 in Cardiff.

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Wales v South Africa: Ken Owens scores breakthrough try after Welsh drive

Wales improved to see off the Pumas a week later, but had to rely on a late Sam Davies drop-goal to beat Japan.

The Springboks ended 2016 with an historic eight defeats in a calendar year with their loss in Cardiff.

Ospreys flanker Tipuric said: "Game by game we are getting better and hopefully by the Six Nations we'll be flying.

"Definitely, we could raise it up again, look after the ball a little better, not give so many penalties away and take it on to another level."

Wales captain Gethin Jenkins - he was deputising for Tipuric's injured rival Sam Warburton - admits "there is still a long way to go" for them in terms of performance.

But amid the much-vaunted Welsh desire to successfully adopt a more attacking ethos, the loose-head prop had a warning.

"We're definitely changing the way we're playing a little and playing with a lot of confidence," said the Cardiff Blues veteran.

"Criticism comes from the coaches and your team-mates and those are the people you listen to.

Wales captain Gethin Jenkins and coach Robert Howley
Wales coach Robert Howley (R) picked Gethin Jenkins to lead Wales against South Africa

"I think there's a balance between playing open rugby and playing winning rugby.

"I think everyone would be complaining if we played a big, open style and lost every game.

"There's a bit of development. We're working on things in training that we probably need to put a little bit more into the game, but we're getting there and three wins out of four is something we can build on."

Centre Jonathan Davies saaid Wales showed they were on an "upward" curve during autumn and that their defensive display against the Springboks impressed their coach in that area, Shaun Edwards.

Wales' 2017 Six Nations fixtures
Sunday, 5 FebruaryItaly v Wales
Saturday, 11 FebruaryWales v England
Saturday, 25 FebruaryScotland v Wales
Friday, 10 MarchWales v Ireland
Saturday, 18 MarchFrance v Wales

"Shaun said we didn't concede a line-break so that's a big defensive performance and that's pleasing," said the Scarlets player.

Wales' Six Nations campaign kicks off against Italy in Rome on Sunday, 5 February, but Davies' Scarlets' team-mate Gareth Davies' eyes are already on England's visit to Cardiff in the second round on Saturday, 11 February.

The scrum-half said: "We've got another couple of gears in us and for us to beat England we're going to have to go through those gears.

"And if we can get up to that top gear, I think it will be one hell of a game."

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