Planet Rugby

State of the Nation: Wales

04th December 2013 15:02


sam warburton wales

Glass ceiling: Sam Warburton

As we do at the end of every year, we look at the state of affairs in each of the world's leading nations. Next up, Wales!

For all the combined talents of the national side, Welsh rugby finds itself in something of a predicament at present.

The four regions are haemorrhaging players to the warmer climes and considerable pay packets of the Top 14, with the much-maligned outgoing flow of big names approaching raging torrent status.

Part of the problem manifests itself in the ongoing European power struggle, which only now appears to be reaching some form of resolution. It's difficult for clubs, regions and unions alike to offer big money contracts without the guaranteed cash injection administered by the Heineken Cup.

Some are calling for the regions to make efforts to strike a deal with the Premiership in England, with fans seemingly apathetic towards the Pro12 tournament, and longing for more high-octane Anglo-Welsh rivalry.

Some, meanwhile, are calling for the regions to be scrapped altogether, labelled a failed experiment, and a return to the club era of days gone by.

On the field, however, Wales remain in good shape. The Six Nations title was secured in style with a 30-point win over England. Coach Warren Gatland and a hefty contingent of his charges led the British and Irish Lions to a thumping Third Test victory over Australia.

Several of the youngsters afforded more game time with the regions thanks to the "player exodus" acquitted themselves well on tour in Japan while the Lions were on duty, despite losing once to the Cherry Blossoms.

The likes of Rhys Patchell, Harry Robinson and Liam Williams - in spite of the results - impressed in the stars' absence. Perhaps the sole positive from the sizeable departure of the top names will be a renewed opportunity for Welsh rugby's next generation to improve, develop and challenge the claims of many that a lack of depth is a blight on the national side.

November though was disappointing. The loss to South Africa was marred by a farcical scrum situation, and an early injury to Jonathan Davies. The centre made more metres in his 12 minutes on the field than any of his team-mates did in the full 80, hinting at how uncharacteristically blunt the Welsh were in attack.

Missing several key players in Adam Jones, Jamie Roberts, Alex Cuthbert and Davies, Wales comfortably saw off Argentina and Tonga before a defining showdown with the Wallabies.

This represented something of a mental test for Gatland's side. After so many Southern Hemisphere near misses, particularly against Australia, could Wales take the belief and lessons learned from the triumphant Lions tour?

No, as it turned out. The Wallabies turned in a fine performance, but it was a painfully familiar outcome for the Welsh, as they lost by four points. Decision-making, ruthlessness and, arguably, a lack of mental fortitude were their undoing.

This block is what currently separates Gatland's talented bunch from doing the damage on a global scale. What they have achieved so far is laudable, no doubt, but to truly progress in the rankings and bridge the gap between the North and the South, it's one they need to overcome.

At the moment, they probably sit narrow favourites to claim a hat-trick of Six Nations titles in 2014. But given Wales will find themselves in a Rugby World Cup pool in less than two years alongside England and Australia, the Southern Hemisphere duck needs to be broken.

by Jamie Lyall

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