The professionals might be hitting us with clichés to try keep talk of a Grand Slam down. Phrases such as “Take one game at a time” and “Every team is dangerous so we can’t get ahead of ourselves” are rolled out to try play down expectation. But it’s not working amongst Welsh fans.
Go into any pub in Wales and you will find people desperate to give their views on this 6 Nations. That might not be unusual, but rather than following the party line of not looking ahead, talk of the Grand Slam being a possibility is never far from their lips. Or mine. After decades of waiting for one, we have had two in recent times – 2005 and 2008. On both occasions Wales showed why Rugby is still the National sport, with half the country out on the streets celebrating, and we’re desperate to do it again.
But just how seriously should we be taking ourselves? After all we may have two victories in the bag, an important point in any Grand Slam effort, but the win vs Ireland was not exactly convincing, in fact others may well call it lucky (I don’t). And whilst the Scotland game was more comfortable, many still point to the yellow cards being a vital aspect of the win. With England up next, who are also two from two on their travels to Italy and Scotland, can we really bag a third Grand Slam in under 10 years?
Five Reasons Wales Will Win the Grand Slam
1. The Size of our Backs: Predictable, yes. But research has actually shown that it could well be a factor. A French study of the World Cups between 1981 and 2007 showed that the winners of the cup had bigger backs (and heavier forwards) and the others.
With Halfpenny the only player under 6ft in the backline, and man mountains such as the youngsters George North and Alex Cuthbert one the wings (both born in England, so very glad we grabbed them), and Jamie Roberts in the centre, we don’t lack for size or power. But they have pace and skills too, look at North’s lovely behind the back off load vs Ireland for example.
2. Priestland: Not many saw him as the piece of the jigsaw we needed before the World Cup, but he is now vital to the cause. As a flat lying 10 he is the perfect fit for us, and brings our big strike runners into play. A clever kicking game, good distribution and the ability to find space for others means he is taking us to new heights.
3. The Back Row: The breakdown is all important these days, and so often it is the backrow that defines it. In Warburton we have a 7 that is arguable as good as any in the World. He spoils and steals with the best of them. But it is the balance that is key.
Lydiate is a tackle machine, taking down anyone who comes near him, and getting through a lot of the ‘unseen’ work a 6 needs, freeing Warburton for other duties. Faletau, at only 21, is a huge ball carrier, with pace and power to match anyone. The three of them together give a balance Wales have lacked for years, and will only get better and better.
4. Momentum: Wales may have lost to Australia twice, in the World Cup and just afterwards, but the momentum from the World Cup is still with us. Just missing out to South Africa and France hurt our pride, and you can see these players gaining confidence from making a World Cup semi. With 2 wins confidence and momentum is building.
5. Defence: We may be the team that finally let Scotland score, but our defence has been a real factor in the last year or two, just like in 2008. The blitz is strong, the line speed impressive. We may be capable of scoring tries, but the systems suggest we can stop them too. Edwards has written on how we don’t need the ball for long periods, how 40% possession can be an advantage to a team with a good defence, and that could well be telling for us.
Five Reasons We Won’t Win the Grand Slam
I never like to dwell on the negatives too long – it makes my prematch nerves too much to handle (funny how fans can get them so much). So I’ll make this brief.
1. Lineout: Gatland can point to the stats as much as he likes, the fact is that our lineout is poor – and often turned over at vital moments, especially in attacking situations.
2. The Opposition: A lot of people are writing off this England side too quickly. There is some impressive youth coming through. Tuilagi especially can be a dangerous weapon. And we haven’t seen much of France yet, hard to gauge them based on a game vs Italy. Both teams could well beat us.
3. Over Confidence: Not seen too much from this team so far, but every time Wales start looking like a good team is developing the player seem to buy into their own hype and go off the boil. This team will need to keep itself grounded better than those before them.
4. Still Young: This team is full of youngsters. There may be a few old heads, but the average age is, if I recall correctly, below 25 – making it even younger than the ‘developing’ England team of the last few weeks. Can the youngsters withstand the pressure? We didn’t vs France in the RWC, can we now?
5. Depth: We’ve developed some impressive strength in depth in recent years, Tipuric covering Warburton for example. But there are still some positions we would be lost if our front line players were injured. The cover for Adam Jones is nowhere to be seen, Jamie Roberts has no one else like him in Wales (and please, let’s not make this about Henson), and Priestland is the only real flat lying 10 with his skill set we have – Nicky Robinson being ignored aside. Add in Mike Phillips’ strength having no real equal and we have a few key positions we simply can’t replace.
My belief? A lot depends on France who we haven’t seen enough of. But I believe in this young Welsh side, and think they can go on to do great things. I worry this is a step beyond them, but deep in my heart I feel that it’s there for the taking, and that we’ll do it! What do you think?
by Rugby Nick
Rugby Nick is a massive Welsh rugby fan and runs the Welsh Rugby Blog website, which you can find here.