Six Nations Pedigree:
After consigning years of frustration to the history books with a scintillating Grand Slam in 2005, Wales faltered before regaining their high standing with another Grand Slam in 2008 under the leadership of Warren Gatland. The New Zealander has remained but two disappointing 4th place finishes have followed their 2008 success, with Ireland and France proving particularly difficult to crack.
Best Six Nations Moment:
It is difficult to pinpoint a particular moment for the Welsh, and many will no doubt speak of crucial victories over England in the run-up to their Grand Slams in 2005 and 2008. But this Grand Slam-sealing victory over France was a simply superb performance, with a record-breaking try for wing Shane Williams and one for the returning Martyn Williams. Wales conceded the least tries and scored the most in the tournament – a thoroughly deserved Grand Slam. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n9KnkIgFJ1U
Biggest Six Nations Win: Wales 47-8 Italy. Millennium Stadium, Cardiff. 25th February 2008.
Biggest Six Nations Defeat: Ireland 54-10 Wales. Lansdowne Road, Dublin. 21st February 2002.
Key Player: Sam Warburton
For most countries the loss of a flanker of Martyn Williams’ calibre would be a catastrophic blow, but for Wales you could barely tell. It’s a testimony to Warburton’s performances that Williams’ loss has almost gone unnoticed, with the 23-year-old thriving under the captaincy as well. At his best the Cardiff Blues flanker is at once a calming influence on his own side and a disruptive monster to the other. For Wales to win the tournament, Warburton must be on top of his game.
One to Watch: George North
The 6’4’’ wing became the youngest ever try scorer at a World Cup last year aged 19 years and 166 days when he grabbed a double against Namibia. At full flight he can rampage through defences and he possesses great acceleration for a man of his size.
RBS Six Nations Fixtures:
Sunday 5th February 15:00: v Ireland at Aviva Stadium
Sunday 12th February 15:00: v Scotland at the Millennium Stadium
Saturday 25th February 16:00: v England at Twickenham
Saturday 10th March 14:30: v Italy at the Millennium Stadium
Saturday 17th March 14:45: v France at the Millennium Stadium
A loss against Ireland wouldn’t be disastrous for Wales, but the match at Croke Park is undoubtedly the tie of the first weekend and gives a chance for either side to strike a body blow. Should Wales win without many of their stars, it could give them the confidence to push on with three of their last four matches all at home.
3/1 to win the tournament.
5/1 for the Triple Crown
8/1 for the Grand Slam
Wales coach Warren Gatland says:
“Anyone is capable of winning this tournament and beating each other on the day. But you have to have confidence in your own chances. What you learn about the Six Nations and what can’t be matched anywhere else is the history of the tournament. It is more than just a game.”
Wales captain Sam Warburton says:
“It’s my third campaign now and I haven’t had a Championship (title) win. I’ve spoken to senior players who have been involved in Grand Slams and Championships and they say it’s fantastic. I’d love to experience that. If I’d put money on who was going to win it as a neutral I think it would be quite difficult to say.”
After their World Cup heroics, Wales were on course to be clear favourites for the Six Nations title. But beset by injuries for their opening encounter, many wonder if they will be able to reach the heights they set on their way to the World Cup semi-final. Prop Gethin Jenkins and locks Alun Wyn Jones are definitely out of the opener against Ireland and flanker Dan Lydiate, fly-half Rhys Priestland and Jamie Roberts are all doubtful.
A trip to Croke Park is difficult at the best of times, but faced with such injuries it represents a huge task. A tough journey to Twickenham follows not long after and Wales could even find themselves out of contention by game three. But with injury returnees complementing the world class talents of Warbuton, George North and Toby Faletau, a strong late surge could restore some pride. 3rd
by Tom James