State of the Nation: Wales

Date published: March 25 2015

1022.6666666666666x767__origin__0x0_Wales_players_celebrate_Italy_v_Wales

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!

On paper, third place pre-tournament would have been viewed as a hugely disappointing campaign. But on reflection, Wales can take plenty of positives from the Six Nations. Ultimately though the difference between first and third was one dismal second-half performance in week one. After winning four games on the spin, they could not take the title on points difference, despite one hell of a good go at it in Rome.

Rewind back to the week leading up to tackling England in that opener and finding anyone seriously tipping an injury-ravaged England to win in Cardiff would have been a task. Such were the injuries striking down Stuart Lancaster's side, nothing but a Welsh victory was predicted.

It all started so brightly for Wales as they shot into a 10-0 lead after eight minutes before going in at the break 16-8 to the good. Surely they would finish the job under the Millennium Stadium lights? What followed was an English fightback as brutal as Wales' collapse as their visitors recovered to prevail 16-21 in a result that shocked the Six Nations and left Welsh hopes of winning 2015's Championship in tatters.

Before that match, England flanker James Haskell had sighted Wales' intense training regime away from the rugby field as being a risk that could backfire in the Six Nations. But, he also said it could pay off in the World Cup which, judging from their Rome finale, it might just.

Against Italy in Round Five, their superior fitness was a sight to behold as they moved through the gears before looking surprisingly fresh at full-time. Although they somehow did not do enough to pick up the Six Nations title, Wales have shown enough to suggest they are serious contenders in the Pool of Death and while many are tipping them as the unlucky one of three not to make the quarters, this writer disagrees.

The spine of this team impressed once again as depth at hooker, lock, options in the back-row, a brilliant half-back and centre combination and firepower with ball in hand and off the tee were evident. Alun-Wyn Jones, Dan Biggar and Liam Williams in particular shone. The only concern – and it's a rather large one – is the fitness of tighthead prop Samson Lee, who's in a race against time for the World Cup.

In between those fixtures in Cardiff and Rome, Wales claimed wins at Murrayfield and in Paris, which demonstrated a great deal of character, with Biggar and Ospreys half-back partner Rhys Webb continuing to impress together as a unit as the Welsh put themselves back in contention.

But that was nothing compared to what was witnessed against a Grand Slam-hunting Irish side at the Millennium Stadium in Round Four, as the Welsh gave an outstanding defensive performance to hold out Joe Schmidt's team. 250 tackles they made at a 92 percent success rate. Ireland meanwhile made just 105, enjoyed 64 percent of the possession and 66 percent territory but couldn't break a seemingly tireless Welsh defence.

Combine that defence with the all-out attack displayed against Italy and they've demonstrated both barrels are loaded for another World Cup. Let's remember that unlike many nations, this is nearly the same XV that went to New Zealand and came within a red card of making the final. That is four years' growth and vital experience from that painful 8-9 loss to France which will surely stand them in good stead later in the year.

By Adam Kyriacou

COMMENTS