Rugby World Cup 2019 Contenders: Wales

Dan Biggar

Wales are the favourites to win the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Well, that’s what Eddie Jones has claimed, anyway. Warren Gatland’s recruits are currently ranked as the best side on the planet, however, so suggestions that they should be lifting the Webb Ellis trophy come November are hardly ludicrous.

One thing the Welsh have in their locker – which nobody can deny – is grit. They toil away for the full 80, work tirelessly for their teammates, and refuse to keel over. Whether that be the influence of veteran lock Alun-Wyn Jones as captain, or merely a mindset instilled by members of the coaching staff such a Shaun Edwards, the men in red are stern opposition for any outfit.

It is that exact fearlessness, that determination to win, that will serve the side well in Japan. As previous tournaments have shown, having the greatest squad of players does not guarantee success. The New Zealand teams that competed between 1993 and 2007 demonstrated as much. Wales have proved they have the attitude for the big occasions; recall the clinical job they did on Ireland in March, or how they came roaring back against England a month prior. Therefore, their mentality is a potent weapon that should see them press on into the latter stages of the competition.

Of course, a strong will is not all that makes Gatland’s team an intimidating prospect. They have elite-level quality across the pitch. At both tighthead and loosehead prop, they possess experienced, reliable performers. Tomas Francis and Samson Lee make for a mean pairing at number 3, whilst Rob Evans is a master in the loose, as well as at scrum-time.

The eminent Jones cemented his place in the second-row many World Cups ago and his capabilities are well-documented in the rugby world. A wickedly intelligent lock, a leader of men, a wily referee negotiator and an ever-willing worker, he epitomises all that is good about this Welsh lineup. Either of Adam Beard and Jake Ball – both of whom have superior athletic ability than the skipper – would make a fine partner for Jones.

It’s odd to think that Gatland’s backrow has improved since the untimely retirement of Sam Warburton, yet that is the truth of the matter. Justin Tipuric is simply a delight to watch; there seems to be nothing the Ospreys marvel cannot do. Likewise, breakthrough star Josh Navidi adds considerable talent to the pack.

There are few players on this Earth so proficient at stealing opposition ball, though there is one man who actually challenges the Cardiff Blues flanker for the title of best pilferer in Wales – James Davies. Evidently, Gatland is spoiled for choice when it comes to loose forward options, despite the damaging loss of Taulupe Faletau.

He’s also got some strong candidates for the 9 jersey, an exquisite centre partnership in Jonathan Davies and Hadleigh Parkes, and some ferocious wingers capable of punishing the slightest error. However, there is a slight issue at fly-half. Gareth Anscombe was widely considered to have a starting berth secured, but his horrific knee injury has ended any hopes of making it to Japan.

That leaves a choice of either Dan Biggar or Rhys Patchell. When you actually weigh up the virtues of the two, you’d still have to say that Wales have a couple of solid 10s. The former is rarely flustered and can rack up points from the tee all day long, whilst his fresh-faced counterpart provides flare. How effective would it be to begin a match with Biggar and turn to Patchell if things go south? There are certainly worse game-plans.

So, it should be fairly clear that Wales have the personnel to really mount a challenge for glory in east Asia. They have also proved that they can keep their cool when in a heated battle, another key ingredient to success. Additionally, they have a reasonably straightforward route to the last-four (famous last words).

As far as the pool stages are concerned, Uruguay will pose no problems and Georgia are spirited but raw. Fiji are a grenade waiting to explode, though Wales saw them off in 2015 and will expect to do the same this year. And Australia? They have been the bane of Welsh lives for over a decade, but it was the Europeans who emerged victorious when they met last in the 2018 Autumn Internationals. It was imperative that Wales finally shook the monkey off their back and they will demand a similar display of courage in Tokyo.

After the groups will come one of England, France and Argentina. Now, none of these will be walkovers, especially not at a World Cup, where they all have impressive track records. However, Wales will fancy their chances against all of these teams having beaten them all in the last year or so.

Ireland or South Africa appear to be likely semi-final opponents, and again Wales will be unafraid. Avoiding New Zealand is the key for Gatland’s men, and they can steer clear until the final, and once you get there, it could go either way.

Don’t be too shocked to hear ‘Land of Our Fathers’ booming in the distance at quarter-to-twelve on Saturday November 2.

By Ed Alexander

Wales Rugby World Cup

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28 thoughts on “Rugby World Cup 2019 Contenders: Wales

  1. Jones’s crude jibe aside, ‘Best side on the planet’. By .03 pts (sure Leon’ll correct me if I’m wrong) !? Peter Jackson reckons not; that their ranking would even stump Aristotle. Whatever. The article suggests that Wales have more (True?) grit than John Wayne, are tireless, have determination, fearlessness etc, etc & oodles of class players, Incl up front & @ b/row. Well, the latter 2 couldn’t have turned up @ Twickenham then & again according to PJ, v an England 2nd team. Surely though, Wales still have something to prove. If they win x2 v Ireland, they could be on track. Lose, even away & the jury’s still out. Having the greatest squad doesn’t guarantee WC success, further opines the article. It cites NZ as an example of this between 1995 (?) & 2007. As an aside, this is a somewhat generalised view as it ignores outside influences. Hopefully for Wales, they won’t be afflicted by poisoning or Wayne Barnes. In any event, Wales seem to have a quality back line, esp if Biggar stands up. However, it seems to me that there’s still a ? mark over whether their pack as a whole is good enough to get them past stern opposition. Therefore the next 2 games will reveal more. They are, IMO, vital games for Wales (& Ireland) to give credibility to their 1 spot.. & WC credentials! Someone mentioned beads of sweat concerning NZ’s previously recent results. Well, maybe it’s Welsh beads now? We’ll see.

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  2. Doubt very much the next two games vs Ireland will reveal very much tbh, think you will see a very much changed team for the next game ( Galland has already alluded to this), what it should tell is how good the Squad is in depth though.

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    1. Well, can’t see the pt in playing the game unless Gatland wants to win it. Should know his squad by now. Suppose he could protect his ‘A’ team, but again, why play it? If he ‘experiments’ & loses, will his team also lose their No.1 status? Why risk that? Especially as it’s such a fragile lead. Surely, should be looking to win everything now to regather momentum going into Japan?!

  3. To quote the round ball game ‘You won’t win anything with kids’, ‘You won’t win it with lack of depth’ and we know those words are now much maligned as could the second statement be.

    Of course Wales have it in their locker to win The World Cup and I don’t think their lack of depth will have any adverse effect unless injuries come knocking.

    With the predictor showing above the only one of the big three Southern Hemisphere sides I see them beating is the Aussies as Springboks currently and New Zealand as always look pretty handy.

    Even if Wales do beat the Springboks I feel it’s be such a bruising encounter I don’t see them beating the Kiwis.

    Yes they can win it but for me it’s a slither of light.

    1. I’d be happy with a Wales v NZ final, I think NZ might edge it but anything can happen in a WC. I don’t want to see a Eng v Wales final. North v South would be ideal!

  4. Well this mighty front and back row must have been in their own little world for the recent Twickenham game, and as a squad they could only score a try at home to England last week, when England only had 13 men in the game. If that’s the best their first choice squad can do at home against England, I don’t fancy their chances against France or South Africa.

    Australia could cause them some issues but not too much, but I think that Georgia will be an interesting test. They will have a big pack and if Gatland chooses a weaker pack for this match, it may not work out so well?!

    If they want to be serious contenders to lift the Cup, they will need to create scoring opportunities rather than just waiting for North to wake up and get involved, or Gareth Davies to go on a run without getting tackled and being isolated. Personally I don’t fancy their chances of getting past the quarter finals, but that’s just me.

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    1. Yep and with Biggar their attack wont be anywhere near as handy as with Anscombe.

      I have always felt Biggar is a great player but not at 10. If he had more pace I’d have him at fullback. At 10 he limits attack too much, sure he can make breaks himself and has a decent kicking game but he stifles the back line too much. I always feel the only way a try is coming from him at 10 is from crossfield kicks out to the wing.

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      1. Totally agree! He always seems like the kid who doesn’t want to pass the ball. Kicking the ball only for himself to chase.
        He is also the one player who always seems to be flapping his arms around while looking and shouting at the ref like a footballer. We don’t need that in the sport!!

    2. Dazza, you make it sound as if England are very weak opponents that Wales should have seen off with ease. I disagree; Wales demonstrated that if you doze off on duty (as they did in the first 20 at Twickenham) Egland have the power to punish you severely. They’re a good side; they may be 4th in the world rankings, but I’m not taking much notice of that.

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      1. As Ten Ton Donut alluded to above, I just can’t see where a structured attack is going to come from. So many quality players in the back line, but they rarely get the ball to do anything with it. I don’t remember Adams getting the ball at all last week. Either that’s lazy of him not to come inside looking for it, or poor work from his fly half etc, not to get the ball to him? Liam Williams will make a difference once he’s fit, but with Biggar at 10, and 1/2P at 15, there is little penetration from the backs.

  5. Don P suggests that Wales will be anxious not to lose their no.1 status. I disagree; Gatland has made it clear it amuses him but he and the team don’t take it too seriously. I would personally be quite pleased if Wales were to lose that position; it means you go into the World Cup as an Aunt Sally. Look at how close all the figures are; all it shows is that there are certainly five or six sides with a serious chance of winning this very open World Cup.

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    1. Yes he has, But then in interviews at least one player admitted that they felt the team got too hung up on achieving the number 1 status at Twickenham and it contributed to the loss.

      Gatland ALWAYS wants Wales to be underdogs because historically they don’t do too well at being favourites (admittedly though I can’t think of too many teams who do).

    2. Why would a team want to lose anything? To lose their status they have to lose a game. Why would a team, going into a WC, want to lose momentum, rather than to get 1 up on an opponent, for the dubious status of being an ‘Aunt Sally’ (underdog?)? Surely, this is wrong mind set stuff.

  6. Wales are a good side who play with an aggressive defensive line and have a strong turnover ability and score most of their tries from counterattack but their attack play lacks imagination and largely consists of bash it up followed by kick chase. Against weaker teams they shouldn’t have much problem and they are capable of beating stronger teams if things break their way but unlikely they will string together enough wins in the knockouts to lift the trophy.

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    1. You could equally be commenting about England. 1 difference is that, currently, Wales are No. 1. Wales have been sus @ fr & back row, but they must have got to where they are by scoring the odd back line try.

      1. Most of Wales trys come from kick chase, turnover ball or the forwards battering ram rather than backs moves or line breaks. England score more tries than Wales (see 6 nations) and have a far more potent backline but they don’t have the same turnover ability they lack leadership and have discipline issues. thats why Wales are the better ranked team

  7. For what it’s worth Skybet are offering the following odds. These are decinal odds.
    NZ 2.25, SA 5.5, Eng 6.5, Ire & Wal 9.0, Aus 13, Fra 34, Arg 41, Sco 51, the rest are longer.

  8. Odds, according to ‘ruck’, now have England as 2nd favourites. Wales, SA 3rd equal. Ireland 4th (I think) & despite talk about NZ’s vulnerability, they’re still the favourite. Whatever. I suppose this stuff is all based on some algorithm which cross refs stats & 1000’s of potential games played scenarios generated by actuaries!? All ‘sounds’ good to me, but.. I perceive SA as the likeliest
    threat to NZ. I still think that NZ, all things being equal, are the team others would rather avoid going towards the final. That’s assuming NZ get there of course. No guarantees. However, there was little talk of their ‘experimental’ sides during the RC, or that they still only lost when @ 14. And after that one, they analysed & fixed it pronto, whilst still maintaining faith (more than I had, I have to state) in their new-ish x2 play maker system. They’ve been there, away, before & history beckons again. Motivated & focused under Hansen, they have a balanced team with experience, some youth & likely a couple of thrusters. They can also play an all court game. Of course that’s if they allow themselves, or are allowed to do so, by their opposition. England too, should be in with a decent shout. However, they’ll need to keep their perceived key men fit due to a lack of specific cover. They’ll also need to pick their team judiciously, especially @ full back, 1/2 back, fly1/2, midfield & @ loose fwd. They may also have to be assertive, bold & astute, particularly in making key decisions @ key moments & recognising these, when under pressure in the tourney’s later stages. If they, or anyone else, can do all this, who really knows whom’ll finally prevail.. with THAT mug @ stake?

  9. the way the title to this article is laid out it would look like a series that would name all the “contenders” and yet here we are a week later and nothing so far on Safers, NZ, Aus, Eng, Ire (maybe not? 🙂 ) or the more outside options of France, Scotland or Argentina … are to expect these to come before the launch of the tournament?

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