Wales: Long-term resurgence or yet another false dawn?

The big story of the Six Nations so far has clearly been the performance of Wales. It is also the big question. How on earth has the rabble who were run off the park by Fiji in the World Cup just a few short months ago suddenly turned into Six Nations table toppers? And is this a false position as they still have to play Ireland or France, or could they seriously win a second Grand Slam in four years?

It is precisely because it would be their second Grand Slam in four years that I remain slightly dubious as to whether this Welsh side are the real deal. In 2005, Wales scraped past England due to a late Gavin Henson penalty, produced a coruscating second half display in Paris playing gung-ho rugby, and suddenly there was no stopping them. Their tails were up, momentum was with them and they took full advantage. ‘Wales are back’, everybody cried, expressing with unanimity that this was excellent news all round for the game of rugby.

But then, nothing. Mike Ruddock was overthrown as coach and Wales spent two years chucking the ball around with gay abandon, often going backwards as they had no platform to build on. The result was 2 wins and 1 draw in the next two years. The removal of Mike Ruddock was troubling as he was a fine coach and by all accounts a ruddy good bloke (sorry). When players can pick and choose the coach then you are in trouble and from a distance it certainly looked as though this talented group of players had got somewhat above themselves. The suspicion was that they felt they had made it, the hard work stopped and the fun started.

In 2008, Wales narrowly won their first game and history (or at least the first bit) could be about to repeat itself. They were outplayed for 50 minutes by England and took merry advantage when their opponents imploded. Since then they have look sharp, witty, inventive and ruthless. However this was against Italy and Scotland, both of whom admitted to having played pretty poorly. We will know far more in a couple of weeks’ time when Wales will have travelled to Croke Park and hosted the schizophrenic French. And we will know a lot more in a year’s time as it will be clear whether Wales have simply found good form or whether they are the genuine article.

But what has made the difference thus far? I am not convinced that Gatland and Edwards can really have worked their magic in such a short period. Their record at Wasps speaks for itself and it is unlikely they will let the team slump as they did after their last successful championship, but they are not miracle-workers. Their influence may be that the motivation to impress a new, hard-nosed, unknown coaching team has put a rocket up the players. This is a talented generation of Welsh players who have let themselves down in the recent past. We are now seeing how they can perform and it is an impressive sight.

The worry is that the second bit of history could repeat itself as well. The key job of the new coaching team will be to harness the undoubted talent on a long-term basis. The raw material is there but has not utilised its potential. Surely they can’t make the same mistakes again but it does give the right for the outsider to reserve judgement at least for a while. The circumspect reaction of the Welsh public to their 3 wins thus far suggests that they have their doubts.

So what do people think? Wales for the Grand Slam? Are this current crop of Welsh players thoroughbreds or show ponies? Is this finally the resurgence of Welsh rugby or just the umpteenth false dawn in the past 25 years?

 by Stuart Peel

6 thoughts on “Wales: Long-term resurgence or yet another false dawn?

  1. False dawn I believe until proven otherwise. If circumstances were normal they would be looking at 2 wins and 1 loss. As you mentioned England totally imploded after an injury toll that was quite hard to believe in one game. So as far as I can see they have two real wins, against Scotland and Italy, and a very fortunate win against England. Of course their fortune is still in their own hands, and I could well be proven wrong in the coming weeks.

  2. I think Wales will beat the Irish at Croke Park and set up a pulsating three-way race for the title in the final weekend – although of course if the Irish win all four teams could still theoretically win the title on March 15 which would be fun.

    You have to really look hard to find weaknesses in this Welsh team, a lack of strength in depth perhaps being one, although certainly not in the half-backs or back three.

    Remember, yes it was a slightly fortuitous victory handed to them at Twickers, but it was also their first game together under a new coaching team since being run out of France by a poverty-struck archipelago of small islands in the Pacific!

    They needed to gel and it took over 40 minutes, big surprise. Wales have always struggled in the set-pieces: get that problem sorted and they can be deadly… Take a bow Messrs Gatland and McBryde and mix in a bit of hard nosed Shaun Edwards inspired aggresion in defense and they take some stopping.

    Ask yourself this, on paper if the Lions tour was this summer how many Home Nations’ players would start ahead of their Welsh counterparts, and would you look further than Ryan Jones to skipper the side?!

  3. Well only time will tell if they will get a Grand Slam of course, but it would take a brave man to bet against them.

    I think (though I’m not brave enough to bet) that they’ll come unstuck at Croke Park, and even if they don’t, the France game will be a very tough one. We’ve seen the worst of the French team now, but they rarely seem to have two really bad games in one 6N and are often the specialists at the backlash after a defeat.

    I have to say I’m not that surprised with the results Gatland and Edwards are getting, partly because I thought the Wales we saw in the 6N and RWC were in a false position of the wrong kind – they still had good players, I just don’t think any of them could give a crap about playing under Jenkins. Gatland’s created a real buzz though – Martyn Williams was obviously enthusiastic enough to make a retirement U-turn. And best of all (get this Rob Andrew) – they have a coaching team that talks to each other and can bear to be in the same room as one another. As an Englishman I can only try and imagine this!

    I think the combination of better organisation (especially in defence which was a shambles in the World Cup), and a motivated, energised team is a powerful one, as witnessed by their results. An improved defence was always going to make more of a difference to Wales than to most other teams. They’ve never struggled to score points, but just look at the Fiji try-fest, and don’t forget the Canada game was not a vintage performance either.

    I wouldn’t say Gatland and Edwards have turned them in to world-beaters already – they haven’t any more than Lievremont has with France, and their win at HQ was largely contributed to by England (credit to Wales for taking their chances ruthlessly, don’t get me wrong, but a better team wouldn’t have presented them).

    When Wales are average, it’s usually their ability to close out tight games against an on-form side(as opposed to one that’s having a shocker like England) that lets them down. In 2004 they made England wobble at HQ and ran France close but lost both. 2005 was a different story – have they now regained a similar level of composure? Their next two games could present the perfect test. All I know is that they’re playing good attacking rugby and won’t be easy to beat.

  4. only the English think it’s a Welsh False dawn but then they have too don’t they :)

    What better start to a Gand Slam then to over turn 25 years of History with the Englsh left in the dirt..

    With both the Scots and Itlian games Gatland and Wales have shown the English game was no mistake we Piss them.. :)

    The English should have stopped whinning by now and started aim for second place in the 6Nations.. :)

    Ireland next Saturday will be a hard win but with Gatland / Edwards standing behind the boys they would not dare win.. :)

    then onto the French game which will be a ugly win but a win none the less :) :)

  5. Well I’ve spoken to quite a few Welsh people who are being a bit circumspect about it and are worried it will be the same old story. I think this is a big turning point – Wales now have a coaching team who will get the best out the excellent players Wales have and will not let them go off the rails again. It will be very interesting to see if they can get them beating the Southern Hemisphere teams. In recent times Wales have looked good in some games against them but have looked almost shocked to be doing well and then lost.
    Exciting times in Wales.

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