State of the Nation: Wales

Date published: March 20 2017

With the Six Nations now done and dusted, we look at the state of affairs in each of the competing nations. Next up, Wales.

For Wales' caretaker coach, Rob Howley, this year's Six Nations campaign will be one he will want to forget in a hurry as his side were far too inconsistent.

They finished with two out of five wins which is not good enough by their standards and although there were some good moments, those were few and far between and they were eventually second last in the final standings albeit 10 points ahead of bottom-placed Italy.

Wales, however, finished four points adrift of France and Scotland, who were in joint-third place. A big reason for that is that they finished on the losing side in close matches, against England and France.

If they had won those encounters, they would have been challenging for honours.

Much was said before the tournament of regular captain Sam Warburton's decision to relinquish the captaincy. Alun Wyn Jones took over the leadership role and it is fair to say that the decision was a good one in the end as both players seemed to benefit from it as the tournament progressed.

Wales started off with an impressive 33-7 come-from-behind victory over Italy in Rome before suffering that narrow 21-16 loss in Cardiff to England in Round Two.

That defeat was a bitter pill to swallow as they matched England in most facets of play and were on course to end the champions' winning streak until a 76th minute Elliot Daly try secured the win for the visitors.

Despite that defeat, their performance in that fixture meant there was plenty of optimism in their camp ahead of their next match against Scotland at Murrayfield. But there was little to crow about as their hosts ran them ragged before claimimg a 27-13 win which was their first triumph over Wales in 10 years.

To their credit, they bounced back from that poor showing with arguably their best performance of the tournament in a 22-9 home victory over Ireland with George North – who was heavily criticised after the defeat to Scotland – leading the way with a brace of tries.

That result also ended the men from the Emerald Isle's hopes of winning the championship and meant Howley and his troops were brimming with confidence as they headed to Paris to take on France in their final match.

That fixture will be remembered for all the wrong reasons, however, as the game finished in farcical fashion. There were 20 extra minutes played in injury time and after France were camped close to Wales' line throughout this period, Camille Chat crossed for a try with Camille Lopez's conversion securing a controversial 20-18 win for les Bleus.

Wales were left fuming after the match with a dubious substitution by France during that period the cause of their anger. This, after Uini Atonio was taken off for a head injury assessment and replaced by Rabah Slimani, despite speculation over where Atonio sustained his injury.

That defeat meant the 2013 champions had to be satisfied with fifth-place in the final standings and left more questions than answers for Howley ahead of their tour to the Pacific islands in June.

With regular head coach Warrren Gatland in charge of the British and Irish Lions on their upcoming tour of New Zealand, the big question is of course how many of Wales' players will be in his squad for the trip to the country of his birth.

And although there might be several Wales representatives in Gatland's Lions squad, don't bet on too many of them lining up in the Tests against the world champions.


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