In the first our RBS 6 Nations team previews, Paul French looks at the Welsh side and their prospects in this year’s tournament.
Six Nations Pedigree:
Since the inclusion of Italy in 2000, Wales have only managed two finishes above fourth, but both of those campaigns ended with the Grand Slam. Inconsistent might be an appropriate word – one minute producing jaw-dropping rugby, and the next losing to Italy.
Best Six Nations moment:
Shane Wiliams’ try against Scotland at the Millennium Stadium in last season’s championship. Wales trailed by 10 points with only three minutes left on the clock, but fought back to level the scores prior to a final passage of play that gave a thrilling match its cathartic moment.
Biggest Six Nations win: 47 – 8 (v Italy 2008)
Biggest Six Nations defeat: 10 – 54 (v Ireland 2002)
Current Form: L-L-L-L-D-L
Wales finished last season’s Six Nations in fourth, in which inconsistency was a major issue for Warren Gatland’s side. Slow starts against England and France proved costly as they were left chasing matches they dominated for large periods. Defeat to Ireland in Dublin was the particular low point, due to a complete and utter lack of cutting edge. The rest of 2010 saw the Springboks pushed close on two occasions at in Cardiff and despite a trio of losses to the All Blacks, Welsh fans will take some encouragement from displays that showed visible signs of improvement. However the performances in losing to the Wallabies and only drawing with Fiji were below par.
Key player: Jamie Roberts
Having only returned to action in December following a wrist injury, the Cardiff Blues centre is integral to the functioning of the Welsh backline. The 24-year-old’s powerful presence at the gain-line was sorely missed during the autumn.
One to watch: Josh Turnbull
The uncapped 22-year old has impressed this season on both flanks of the Scarlets’ back-row. Lightning quick (for a forward), Turnbull may be catapulted into a Welsh back-row desperately lacking dynamism.
RBS Six Nations Fixtures:
Friday 4th February, Wales v England, 19:45, Millennium Stadium
Saturday 12th February, Scotland v Wales, 17:00, Murrayfield
Saturday 26th February, Italy v Wales, 14:30, Stadio Flaminio
Saturday 12th March, Wales v Ireland, 17:00, Millennium Stadium
Saturday 19th March, Wales v France, 19:45, Millennium Stadium
Key clash: Wales v England
Having not having recorded a test match victory in nearly twelve months, irrespective of their opening opponents, it is vital that Wales get off to a winning start. History has shown that momentum is crucial in championships, and this year is unlikely to be an exception to that rule.
Odds: 4th favorites at 11/2 with Paddy Power.
Argument that says they can win it:
Recent Six Nations have shown that when Wales get it right they are capable of surpassing all expectations. The last eighteen months has seen them on a steep learning curve, but such tough experiences will have given this side the mental toughness lacking previously. The addition of fresh faces, such as Turnbull and fellow Scarlet Rhys Priestland will also have freshened things up.
Argument that says they can’t:
Wales’ lack of strength in depth has been exposed with another injury crisis. Not only are they missing World class performers in the shape of Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones, but alternatives are thin on the ground: the lack of a quality tight-head is a major concern. The Welsh lineout has failed to function sufficiently in the last two championships, and while Wales may have an impressive array of talent on show in their backline, injuries have left individuals such as Leigh Halfpenny and Shane Williams undercooked.
Warren Gatland on whether he regrets his comments about Dylan Hartley: “No. We needed to sell a couple of thousand extra tickets, and I’m on a bonus from the BBC. And there’s always a bit of spice about Wales v England.”
Matthew Rees: “Paul James is a better scrummager than Gethin Jenkins. Don’t tell Gethin that.”
The bi-polar nature of Wales never ceases to amaze. Playing two of the more fancied teams in the shape of England and Ireland at home does boost their hopes though. Just no shenanigans with golf buggies please lads. 3rd
Highlights of 2008 Grand Slam: