Six Nations 2014 Preview: Wales

alun wyn jones

Home ground: Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
Head Coach: Warren Gatland


Warren Gatland’s men are renowned for their powerful approach to the game. Wales tend to try to outmuscle European opposition and they rarely fail to get their monstrous runners round the corner when executing their attritional game plan.

The Welsh front row boasts the ever-impressive Richard Hibbard and the dynamic Gethin Jenkins, with Adam Jones returning to international duty to anchor the scrum. The back row is typically strong and well balanced, featuring the likes of Toby Faletau, 2012 Six Nations player of the year Dan Lydiate, Justin Tipuric, Andrew Coombs, Aaron Shingler and Sam Warburton, although the skipper has not played since the defeat to Australia in November.

Wales’ scintillating back three remains as ominous as ever. With the 2013 Six Nations player of the year Leigh Halfpenny and his meticulous boot at full back, the electric George North on one wing and the powerful Alex Cuthbert on the other, there is plenty of try-scoring potential.

The colossal Welsh backline is almost back to full strength, with the world class centre partnership of Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies named in the squad. Davies is still struggling with a pectoral injury but Gatland insists he will be fit for their game against France on 21 February.


Wale’s prospects of winning a historic hat trick remain as reliant on the Welsh medical team as they do on the players. While they do boast the bulk of the 2013 British and Irish Lions touring party, questions have been raised about the resulting fatigue of the players, subsequent to such an intense and extended playing period. The Autumn Internationals reminded Wales how rapidly a squad can be dismantled by injury and there are still concerns over the fitness of Adam Jones, Davies, Warburton and Roberts and their lack of recent game time.

The Welsh also lack strength in depth in the second row. Ian Evans’ 12-week ban and Bradley Davies’ injury leaves them short in the second row, with potential cover Ryan Jones also ruled out with a hamstring injury.

While the Welsh line speed and aggression around the fringes makes close-quarter confrontation lethal, attacking with plenty of width and pace often leaves Wales stretched and reeling – as the Irish and Australians have realised in recent times. Wales also have a tendency to get drawn into an aimless and stagnant kicking exchange, as we saw in the autumn, which can cancel out their exciting attacking game plan.

Player to watch: George North

The winger was, typically, Wales’ outstanding and most consistent performer throughout a turbulent autumn campaign. His destructive power is complemented by his agility, balance and acute sense of timing. And having already scored 15 tries for his country, the only thing opposition nations will find more frightening than the 21-year old’s pace, is his seemingly infinite potential.

Last season: 1st

When Roman Poite blew his whistle to signal the end of Wales’ 2013 opener, the Welsh were forced to accept their eighth straight defeat. A defeat that, in the end, lulled the remaining five nations into a false sense of title-retention insecurity.

But Wales swiftly reminded their competitors that regardless of a horrific autumn series, in the Six Nations, The Red Dragon is a different beast. Rob Howley’s men responded immediately and Halfpenny’s flawless boot and George North’s impossible finish helped Wales scrape past France and get their campaign on track.

Wales went on to complete two arduous victories against Italy and Scotland before running rampant against a jaded England side to secure a second successive Six Nations title.

Prediction: 1st

If the Welsh players remain fit, they are more than capable of becoming the first nation to win a third successive Six Nations title. With a fully fit squad, Wales are arguably world class but undoubtedly Europe’s best.

Last season, they won all three of their away fixtures, and this year they are only faced with two. They must travel to the Aviva Stadium to take on Ireland, well aware that Joe Schmidt’s men still pride themselves on the fluid passing game that cut the Welsh apart last year. Wales must also travel to Twickenham to overcome a wounded England side that will be desperate for revenge. If they can overcome these considerable yet beatable obstacles, then they will make history.

By Nathan Hyde (@NathanHyde2)

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

24 thoughts on “Six Nations 2014 Preview: Wales

  1. I can’t handle this favourites tag. I know that’s been a perennial problem with Wales teams as well but I’m a simple fan who wants to enjoy the tournament and the beer. The idea that it’s actually expected for us to win, and therefore any loss would be a screw up, dims the enjoyment of the initial matches a little – rather than “wahey, we won!” it’s, at best, “wahey! we didn’t lose!”.

    1. Well England have just sacrificed this 6N in favour of long term development, so the winner of Ireland Wales gets the 6N title for me. England and France to fight it out for 3rd and 4th. Personally reckon you are the favourites – like it or not. Might even get a Twickenham win this year – obviously hope not, but I am already preparing myself for it.

      1. I don’t think we have necessarily sacrificed the championship for development but we have, rightly imo, prioritised development. I would say Wales, Ireland and France are more settled and experienced and therefore favourites but two years ago we came within a millimetre of a shared championship with a far more inexperienced side.

        In short who the hell knows. Can’t wait for it to start though!

  2. “lack strength in depth in the second row”? – Disagree here. Wales arguably have the deepest quality of second row’s of any of the nations:

      1. And Bradley Davies is injured still (as the article says). With no Ryan Jones as cover either I don’t think you can say Wales have the deepest quality (available).

    1. Very much disagree with that.

      Let’s remember Evans, Ryan Jones and Davies are out.

      So you have AWJ (class act), Charteris (awful, too lightweight), Coombs (average) and Ball (honestly never heard of him so may well be class).

      I think the article is spot on to say you may have trouble in this area.

  3. Warburton on the bench, very interesting. Think we’re seeing Gatland slowly realise that he doesn’t do as well with the burden of the captaincy.

    The reality is that Wales are heavily favoured in this match, whether or not brighty likes it. Your team are in the ascendancy, enjoy it.

    1. Not sure I agree with that, let’s remember Gatland selected him as his Lions captain last summer.

      Warburton is on the bench because he hasn’t played since November, no other reason. I’m sure he will get half hour or so on Saturday, then be starting soon after.

  4. Think the reason Warburton is on the bench is mainly because of his lack of playing time over the last few months, Gatland obviously gonna ease him in gradually. Think Wales have a fair chance of coming out on top of the 6N if they can limit further injuries, sooner JD gets back the better their chances….big big player for them. Think that whoever wins there will be no grand slam, too close to call really, can’t wait !!

  5. The obvious tough games for Wales appear to be Ireland and England both away. Wales have however not lost an away 6N game since 2011, so a 50% return on top of poss 3 home wins with due respect against Italy,Scotland and an out of sorts France would leave us on 8 points.
    Maybe enough to secure 3 Six Nation Titles on the bounce ?

    1. Ireland game will be tough – Irish rugby, in general, seems to hate Welsh rugby. There always seems to be some excuse for a niggle or grudge – this year it will be BOD v Gatland/JD but that’s just this year – last year there was the revenge for the “tip tackle with no red card” the year before, the year before it was revenge for the mugging in the world cup, etc. Irish rugby fans appear to find it hard to square the idea of their clubs walloping us all over the shop but we’re still the dominant force in Euro internationals and it seems to be surmised that it’s not fair, Ireland should be the dominant Celtic team, not us, we’re just a bit lucky really. These are all the authors own thoughts/feelings, no facts stated here. Just what I’ve picked up from a few decades of watching.

      So, when you throw all that in plus Ireland being a good team plus it being in the Aviva (ok, plus 0.5 as it’s possibly the least impressive international stadium in the world) then I think we’ll do amazingly well if we can win that match.

  6. Obviously a must win for Wales, esp with France nxt up… & Engaland @ the end.

    Home advantage shud count some, but as it’s early days for Joe Schmidt’s Ireland, not an easy call.

    May depend on whether JS can get Ireland playing like Leinster & as Ireland did v the ABs… rather than as they did v Oz… & whether Wales stop them… & vice versa play?

    I like the Welsh Fr. row with all that exp tho. Also the b/row, esp Tuperic. But they will need the locks to muscle up.. & the author geezer is raining on Wales’ parade here.

    As long as the game’s been around, the side on top up front usually prevail, so it’ll be interesting to see if Ireland can do this. Altho I think they need a full pack to be fit turn it their way, so they might struggle here.

    But both sides need quick ball (so the br/down could be pivotal) with some b/line innovation (esp in the oppo 22) like a 2nd wave of attackers behind dummy runners, wings/f/backs entering @ pace, or the odd fly1/2 wrap around, as it ought to be tight in D.

    Much has been made of North & he looks plenty good going fwd, but how is he @ going backwards? I’m not sure. He made a big impact with ‘that’ try for the Lions & got MotM award (if I recall rightly), but interestingly, Israel Folau scored 2 agin him in that same match. Perhaps I haven’t seen enuff of him yet to give a balanced opinion yet , but maybe on Sat we’ll see?

    So who’s gonna win it? Blowed if I know! Wales by the skin of a leek maybe?

  7. When I was a lad we were glad to have just the odd win every season or three (think how bad it really was in the 5N/6N- 1987 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1995 1996 1997 2003 + as late as 2007 {with Gareth ‘sacked in the car park’ Jenkins and his ‘ Annus Crappus’} )

    Who’d have thought we could win the championship two years running and beat every team away from home in 2012 and 2013. Young people today-don’t know they are born.

    Win, we didn’t know what it was to win my lad. You count your lucky stars sunshine you did not have to live through it!!!

    The oddest emotion was the 2005 GS when having waited so long and watched some really awful Welsh sides I simply did not know how to react at the final whistle.

    1. Enoch, I’m in my 40s but thanks for calling me a young lad. My post was a bit tongue in cheek – there was something liberating though about being crap – no pressure or expectation, just a great big day out on match day. I prefer winning though, my post was more a wistful remembrance of when all the 6Ns meant to me was a day in the pub and the odd win – now I watch it with an actual competitive edge.

      My son (11) is constantly berated by me when he dismisses England as “oh, it’s only England Dad, we always beat them” because as far as he is concerned (say the last 6 years) we pretty much have always prevailed. He sees Ireland/France as the big games. Makes me ill. All those years England walloped us and he doesn’t even get the utter joy of now seeing us turn the tables, he’s more concerned with whether we’re going to get walloped by Ireland.

      1. I do clearly remember what I did at final whistle in 2005 – screamed out 20 years of agony, threw beer everywhere, joined in the mass hug and then blew a fortune on cheap champagne in some club. A magnificent day.

        1. Being a child of the 70’s there was a time when like Brighty’s lad beating England meant very little as a game to me (though not necessarily culturally ) in fact this lasted until about 1990 but the odd success apart the next decade and a halfs stuffings certainly cured me of of that .Matt Dawson cupping his ear when he scored a try to illustrate that he had shut the crowd up at the Millenium circa 2001 was my personal nadir ,in fact I can’t watch Q of Sport any more just because he is on it .

          2005 was like a release of so many years tension it was unbelievable but I never take about any success for granted as what goes around certainly comes around in sport .

          1. Oh how I remember that gesture….if English teams and their supporters want to know why everyone else in the Championship supports whoever England are playing then they should watch that little clip.

            Oh yeah and the one in Twickers (or as Peter West used to call it ‘HQ’. HQ what an arse)
            when in 2012 Wales won the Triple Crown and Knob Andrew could not even look at Warburton, let alone congratulate him or shake his hand.

            Anyway I’m looking forward to the Starter against Italy and then hopefully the French backline cutting the England novices to pieces.

            England have a tough 1st few games if things go against them in Paris-Scotland in Ediburgh never lie down for sons of Longshanks especially not at home. Italy away at the end could be tricky of they have lost the others on the road. And maybe to us too…Who knows?

            1. The great thing is that many of us are half expecting the French backline to cut us to shreds and the Welsh, like last year. If we do manage to pull a rabbit out of the hat, it won’t half make rereading comments like these so much sweeter! Hope you enjoy being favourites!

  8. Charteris lightweight ? He’s nearly 20 stone. Warburton is on the bench due to injury and not wanting to rush him back in too soon.

    I haven’t seen AWJ go ‘missing in action’ in a very long time

    1. Is Davies more the enforcer type that would be seen as the backup for Evans, with Charteris the backup to AWJ? So with neither Evans or Davies you lose some of the nasty edge and possibly a bit of grunt on the right side of the scrum?

  9. When on form I’d have Evans over Davies, and yes, I guess hes in the enforcer mould. He’s a loss but then we have Hibbard who could tackle a Rhino with just his head and Lydiate can stop most lumps in their tracks.

    AWJ was pretty abrasive for the Lions and led them very well. I remember Ryan Jones and him going high and low on Chabal – he didn’t get up for a while

    Charteris used to be a bit ‘lightweight’ for his size but he’s 6’10 and 19 stone and been playing in France for a season or two – he’d certainly bulked up during the RWC so I’m sure he’s as big now as he was in – the French league is hardly non contact.

Comments are closed.