In the week leading up to the start of the 2016 RBS Six Nations, Craig Wright will be looking at each of the nations bidding to be crowned champions on 19 March. Next up, he discusses Wales’ prospects in the upcoming championship
Rugby World Cup recap: By rights, the scale of the Welsh injury list at the Rugby World Cup should have put paid to their hopes of a successful campaign. Add in the fact they were thrown into the “Group of Death”, and you couldn’t have blamed Welsh fans for any negativity they may have been experiencing. However, through sheer belief and hard work, Warren Gatland’s side found their way out of the group, and were only denied a place in the semi-finals by an incredible offload from South Africa’s Duane Vermeulen to set up Fourie du Preez for the match-winning try. They’ll undoubtedly be disappointed at that result, but should be pleased at their resilience and tenacity at the tournament.
State of the Nation: There’s a very settled feel to this Welsh side. There’s experience throughout the squad, and a real sense of optimism ahead of the Six Nations. Sam Warburton hasn’t played a lot of rugby recently, but is up there with the world’s best captains, whilst Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies are reunited in the centres after injury. There are also a few newer faces around the training pitch, most notably Scarlets prop Rob Evans, tipped as the long term replacement for the ageing Gethin Jenkins. Warren Gatland has plenty of talent at his disposal, and will be sure to work out how best to use it.
One to watch: Justin Tipuric (below). If the Ospreys flanker had been from any other country, he would have had upwards of 50 caps by now. Unlucky as he is to find himself in the same position as Sam Warburton, Tipuric is too good to be ignored. With Dan Lydiate struggling for fitness, expect to see Tipuric and Warburton used in tandem in the Welsh back-row. Extremely mobile with the hands of a back, Tipuric is by no means a stranger to the international scene, having made his debut in 2011. However, expect this to be the tournament at which he makes his mark.
What they said:
Warren Gatland: “We feel that we’re in a good place right now in terms of continuity and experience. There are some young guys coming through that will have great experience by the time the 2019 World Cup comes around.”
Sam Warburton: “The Six Nations is so tight, and that’s why it’s such a great competition. You lose more than once, and you know that’s your championship over.”
Title chances: With the most settled squad in the tournament and a vastly experience leadership group, Wales have to be considered favourites for the Six Nations. They have a solid game plan, some world-class players and an ability to get a result when they have no right to do so. Add in the quirky fact that Wales have won the Six Nations in both of the last two post World Cup years (2008 and 2012), and they’ll back themselves. Trips to Dublin and London will test them though, so Wales won’t be getting ahead of themselves.