State of the Nation: Wales

Date published: March 30 2016

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As we do at the end of a major tournament, we look at the state of affairs in each of the competing nations. Next up, Wales.

Unfancied a couple of months before the Championship, then came a rush of backers for a settled Wales to claim the Six Nations silverware.

That faith wasn't unwarranted as the Welsh impressed during the Rugby World Cup, with Dan Biggar, Alun Wyn Jones and several others having caught the eye with excellent performances. The stumbling block however on their road to the title was their unfavourable draw.

And yes, those away games against Ireland and England proved their undoing as round one saw them draw in Dublin before their fourth match ended in a 25-21 loss at Twickenham, thus resulting in the English getting their hands on the trophy and gaining revenge for September 26.

Not far off being champions then.

Wales were leading 16-13 against Ireland in that opener at the Aviva Stadium until a late Jonathan Sexton kick made it honours even.

Few would argue that if they had won that fixture then the destination of the title might have ended up 150 miles west of its final location.

Scotland might argue a similar point as they were leading Wales on the hour mark in round two before George North's superb late solo try spared Welsh blushes in Cardiff.

That was the second straight game Gatland had gone for Justin Tipuric and Sam Warburton in his back row.

The jury remains out on whether playing those two flanks alongside Taulupe Faletau is the right road to go down and for their third game it was back to Dan Lydiate, while elsewhere one of the success stories, Rob Evans, continued ahead of Gethin Jenkins. He had a solid tournament.

Gareth Davies was also their go-to man at scrum-half in the absence of Rhys Webb, with the latter's return to fitness a real plus point moving forward.

The focus now shifts to the missing piece of the jigsaw, Leigh Halfpenny, and when he'll be back on the field.

In June the team takes on New Zealand in a three-Test series, this after facing England in May, and on the back of another demolition of Italy they will have their tails up, although it's a touch concerning that only Scarlets are in the top seven in the current PRO12 table.

Make no bones about it, we will learn a great deal about this Welsh side when they face the All Blacks and it will also offer an insight into what awaits the British and Irish Lions in 2017.

Those desperate to see some attacking evolution from Gatland's side were left disappointed throughout the tournament, after Wales hastily retreated back to their route one tactics after missing out on the win in Dublin.

But to defeat the All Blacks straight runners over and over won't be enough.

Can Wales retain their direct ball-carrying and pair it with some expansive play in the backs? We saw against a patched-up Italy that when they do decide to fling the ball around, it's a pretty sight.

Plenty to look forward to then in June for a side possibly reaching its peak age.

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