Six Nations Thoughts – Wales

21 01 2010

These are interesting times for Wales. No one seems to be sure whether 2009’s poor results were part of a longer term decline or just a natural blip in form for what should be a vibrant and successful Wales’ team. Wales have long been an exciting team to watch and their style of back play over the past decade is the closest a northern hemisphere team has come to emulating New Zealand in their manner of playing. The problem is that whilst they have looked pretty, the results have rarely followed.

There was the unlikely pair of Grand Slams in 2005 and 2007 which at the time seemed to signify a resurgence in Welsh rugby. 3 years on and it is that level of success which appears to be the blip. Pair a weak 2009 to the Welsh clubs performances in the Heineken Cup this season and Wales appear to be a rugby nation in trouble. With only Ospreys looking likely to qualify from their group the strength in depth in Welsh rugby appears to be thin.

A recurring theme in rugby at the moment is the high level of serious injuries that are happening and Wales are not exempt from this misfortune. Mike Phillips and Dwayne Peel are both injured leaving the scrum half battle to be fought between an out of favour Gareth Cooper and newcomers Richie Rees and Martin Roberts.

Notable selections include Tom Prydie of the Ospreys who last month became the youngest Heineken Cup debutant at the age of 17. His club mate and winger Kristian Phillips is also included as Gatland searches for wingers to replace Shane Williams. Williams is 33 and probably won’t make it to the next world cup so it is important that other options are explored.

It is good to see Lee Byrne back in the squad after successfully returning from injury. Byrne is a dynamic player and probably the single biggest weapon other than Jamie Roberts Wales possess. Like Ireland, Wales have a strong back line, despite losing their Lion scrum halves, but the test will be to see if the forwards can retain enough ball for the backs to use.

There is a spine of real quality in the Welsh team, the likes of Adam Jones and Alun Wyn-Jones in the scrum, with Stephen Jones, Roberts, Shanklin and Byrne in the backs mean that Wales shouldn’t be a push over. It is important other players step up and produce the goods as other wise the afforementioned talented players will be destined for another mediocre tournament.

Prediction: Wales to have another middling tournament with only home wins against Italy and Scotland. 4th place.

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