Sydney – Wales know they need to shut down Australia scrumhalf Will Genia and nullify the influence of flanker David Pocock if they are to keep the three-match series alive in the second Test in Melbourne this weekend.
Genia ran the show in Australia's 27-19 win in the first Test in Brisbane last weekend, feeding off quick ball and stunning the European champions with a brilliant individual try.
The Welsh battled their way back into the game in the second half, however, and remain confident they can record their first win against the Wallabies since 1969 at the Docklands Stadium on Saturday.
“Will Genia's a world class nine and the way he had time on the ball, we were slightly disappointed,” Howley, no mean scrumhalf himself in his playing days, told reporters in Melbourne on Thursday.
“We have to negate that threat ... It's an area we need to front up.”
Australia are expecting a backlash from the tourists and have anticipated attempts to stop Genia and put pressure on Berrick Barnes, who retains the flyhalf spot in an unchanged Wallabies team.
“Wales will really want to shut down our key playmakers at number nine and 10. You will see a real blitz in the Welsh defence,” coaching coordinator Tony McGahan, who knows the Welsh well from his days with Irish province Munster, said this week.
“They'll be coming off the line exceptionally hard around the ruck, and will try to control our number nine and number 10. They will make sure their time on the ball and ability to get themselves into the game is shortened.”
As Ireland showed with their upset win over the Wallabies at last year's World Cup, if you can slow down the ball at the breakdown and put unremitting pressure on Genia then the Australian attack does falter.
Pocock was absent through injury from that match at Eden Park, however, and on Saturday he will be captaining the side and no doubt hovering over the ball at almost every tackle.
Wales have brought seasoned campaigners in number eight Ryan Jones, lock Alun Wyn Jones and hooker Matthew Rees into their pack to help in their bid to compete more successfully at the breakdown.
Australia are also expecting their back three to be tested by more high kicking, even if Howley had decided to stick with Rhys Priestland at flyhalf instead of promoting the more experienced James Hook.
Priestland's first priority, however, will be too fire his hulking backline, which left more than few Six Nations defences in tatters on the Welsh march to Grand Slam glory earlier this year.
“History obviously shows from our 2008 and 2010 tours that we get better in the second test so we're looking forward to that challenge this time around,” warned Howley.
Australia:15-Adam Ashley-Cooper, 14-Cooper Vuna, 13-Rob Horne, 12-Pat McCabe, 11-Digby Ioane, 10-Berrick Barnes, 9-Will Genia; 8-Wycliff Palu, 7-David Pocock (captain), 6-Scott Higginbotham, 5-Nathan Sharpe, 4-Rob Simmons, 3-Sekope Kepu, 2-Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1-Benn Robinson.
Wales: 15-Leigh Halfpenny, 14-Alex Cuthbert, 13-Jonathan Davies, 12-Ashley Beck, 11-George North, 10-Rhys Priestland, 9-Mike Phillips; 8-Ryan Jones, 7-Sam Warburton (captain), 6-Dan Lydiate, 5-Alun Wyn Jones, 4-Bradley Davies, 3-Adam Jones, 2-Matthew Rees, 1-Gethin Jenkins. – Reuters