Six Nations candidates: Wales

As we continue our build up to the 2010 RBS Six Nations, Jonny McLeod brings us the first in the series of team profiles as he examines Wales’ prospects in this year’s competition.

Wales will be buoyed by the return of some key players with Lee Byrne, Adam Jones and Stephen Jones all set to time it right just for the start of the Championships. Byrne’s comeback should add fresh impetuous to their attacking game with his raids from full-back, as well as security under the high and a huge kick return should teams insist on a kicking duel.

The Welsh will be just as delighted to see prop Adam Jones back in action. Their scrum more than creaked against Australia in November but his return to the front row alongside Gethin Jenkins and Matthew Rees should ensure a stable platform. And if they can find a way of bring them into the game, Shane Williams and Leigh Halfpenny are two of the best finishers in the Championships.

If they can correct some of their defensive alignment issues from the autumn, they have a solid centre and will be tough to crack. Stephen Jones is about as reliable as they come from the tee and Leigh Halfpenny’s mighty boot means opponents’ transgressions in their own half will be punished.

Wales have lost momentum over the past year. Their attacking game was shown up to be pedestrian and predictable during the autumn internationals, scoring just four tries in four matches, and their confidence has eroded accordingly. They have become over-reliant on the physicality of Jamie Roberts and Andy Powell, and teams worked them out (as England did last year with Joe Worsley forming a midfield wall). Their carrying game in the forwards has also lost dynamism. Greater variety will be required.

With Mike Phillips and Dwayne Peel injured, scrum half is a major worry for Warren Gatland. Two of their scrum-halves in the original squad are without international experience – Richie Rees and 17-year-old Tom Prydie – betraying a lack of depth which is not restricted to the number nine shirt. This, though, will be a crucial position requiring decisive leadership if Wales are to rekindle their dynamic off-loading game that so suits the likes of Martyn Williams, Gethin Jenkins and Shane Williams.

Coaches perspective: Warren Gatland
“Our first match at Twickenham could set the tone for the Championship for both sides, we will both be desperate to win that first up match. We then come to the Millennium Stadium for two home matches and the support we have there will make a huge difference to us.”

Key player: Lee Byrne
The Ospreys full-back was dearly missed during the Autumn internationals but he has returned from injury and should bring an extra dimension to their attacking game. A potent strike runner, Byrne has the ability to burst into the line and break through the opposition defence with his searing pace and instinctive angles.

One to watch: Martin Roberts
Wales have a number of youngsters, such as Tom Evans, Jonathan Davies, Sam Warburton and Dan Biggar, who could challenge the senior players. But Scarlets scrum half Martin Roberts could be the most important. With Dwayne Peel still a doubt, and with Mike Phillips injured, Roberts has the potential to take the number nine spot. Wales could be relying on the 23-year-old, aided by Scarlets team-mate Stephen Jones, to dictate the tempo of their game which will be crucial to their hopes.

Stadium: Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
The proximity of the crowd to the pitch creates an intense setting. And though not as intimidating as the other stadiums, the rousing singing of the Welsh fans make for an awesome atmosphere and an impassioned Welsh team. Three fixtures at home, including against France, will be a distinct advantage.

Wales’ Six Nations Fixtures:
Sat 6 Feb v England, Twickenham Stadium, London
Sat 13 Feb v Scotland, Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
Fri 26 Feb v France, Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
Sat 13 Mar v Ireland, Croke Park, Dublin, Ireland
Sat 20 Mar v Italy, Millennium Stadium, Cardiff

Last season: 4th
Prediction: 4th

5 thoughts on “Six Nations candidates: Wales

  1. I’m not so sure Wales will have another poor season. Strangely, I think it’ll be Wales that will be the enigmatic team this time – a mantle usually occupied by the French, but I think it’ll be the good attacking Wales that shows up instead of the one we saw in the Autumn.

    They have often been slow starters in the 6N, but they always seem to get around it when their first opponent is England, like it is again this year.

    With the players and the coaching set up they have, and the honesty they showed at the end of the autumn series, I think they’ll be top 3, possibly even top 2.

    I still tip Ireland to win, possibly with another slam, but I’m not totally convinced that France will be second. I think Wales could surprise a few people and France still have a way to go in developing as a team.

  2. It will be interesting to see how they start against England. Beating England at Twickenham in 2008 set them on a roll and they won the Grand Slam.

    They’ll probably finish higher than England, but I can see them starting badly and being destined for mid-table from there.

    As usual when England haven’t played for a few months, my optimism has returned and I think we’ll beat Wales in Round 1. I am such a sucker.

  3. Ireland have the strongest, most settled, and most experienced side. Back-to-back Grand Slams would be a push but I predict them to win 4 out of 5 and take the Championship.

    France will probably display the most attractive and destructive rugby….in patches, but they are still a young and developing side and I don’t see them with the consistency yet to challenge for the top. Prediction: 2nd

    I agree that Wales are going to be better than most people are predicting. They still have quality players, who although didn’t perform in the Autumn series, can easily come together and fire all at once. The opening game will be very important, but I don’t see it as pivotal in this 6N. Prediction: 3rd

    England, for all the reasons that have been constantly aired on this blog, will be 4th.

    Scotland will claim they are progressing and showing promise, but will again sit a disappointing 5th.

    Then Italy….

  4. I agree with Rob. While the England camp has refused to acknowledge their inadequacies and repeatedly argued that everything is going to plan, the Welsh have been up front about the fact that they are not satisfied with their mediocre performances. Expect them to arrive at HQ with a renewed energy and determination.

  5. Wales have a very good first XV, I’m not sure if it is as good as Ireland’s or France on the their day. But a confident Wlaes will certainly beat one of those two teams, plus England, Scotland and Italy. The problem for Wlaes is depth, they haven’t got any, what so ever. Their scrum showed that their frontrow is good but that there is nothing to replace it if injuries occur.

    Without henson theirt midfield lacks real creativity, but Hook could solve that playing at centre, I like him there far more than at fullback.

    I like them for 2nd or third, nobody winning a slam this year. BUT any injuries and that could change quickly.

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