Planet Rugby

State of the Nation: Wales

19th March 2014 09:14

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Warren Gatland Wales

Calls to make: Warren Gatland

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!

Warren Gatland has previously had a knack of finishing in a certain position with Wales in the Six Nations since taking over in 2008. It's either first, winning a trophy and possibly sometimes a Grand Slam, or fourth. Coming third in 2014 therefore marks a change.

The majority of the calls about Wales in the last few weeks of the Six Nations have been that fundamental change is necessary ahead of the next World Cup.

Yes, Wales defeated Italy, France and Scotland at home, but it's the away games that count for more because in England and Ireland there are two opponents that Wales will and could run into in the World Cup - a RWC nonetheless that Wales have been tipped to do well in since losing the 2011 semi-final.

It's not a crisis, yet. Jamie Roberts bar that kick against England was at his best. Leigh Halfpenny quite literally gave everything, even his shoulder. Sam Warburton grew.

Dropping Mike Phillips gave the veteran a necessary jolt, with Rhys Webb shining against France before just trying too hard against England. Rhys Priestland is another who delivered no lack of effort, but just failed to execute too often, drawing unacceptable boos from his home fans when he came on against Scotland.

Wales just have too many lingering doubts. If their big carriers cannot get around the corner as they have done so effectively in years past, then the kicking game dries up, as do the territory and penalties and therefore points. The death of 'Warrenball'? Maybe not, but a Plan B must be ready and new players can make that happen.

Those doubts stretch to selection too. Gethin Jenkins is now the most-capped Welsh player of all time, yet was penalised more at the scrum (two yellow cards) than his narrow rival Paul James.

Adam Jones is another who cannot go on forever, hence the need to develop Rhodri Jones and Samson Lee. Ken Owens earned his chance to start ahead of Richard Hibbard.

Dan Biggar should always have been the starting number ten from week one. Jonathan Davies was understandably not firing on all cylinders after such a long time out. George North: spectacular. Alex Cuthbert? A single try compared to last year's four.

The Lions tour has arguably takes its toll. Halfpenny and Warburton, arguably the two biggest players for Wales, are both out of the tour to South Africa. That makes what were already slim chances for Wales to win in the Republic even smaller.

A defeatist attitude isn't necessarily the right one to have, but if the tour is already a lost cause - which it seems to be on paper - then why flog players such as Adam Jones, Alun Wyn Jones, North and Roberts through another gruelling month when a World Cup awaits next year?

England are fresh with only a handful of players that played for the Lions involved, and even some of those such as Dan Cole, Geoff Parling, Tom Croft and Manu Tuilagi have had long periods to recover from injuries.

In the areas where there are concerns about depth, why not give reserve players time to flourish. There are a few bigger tests of a player then travelling to face the Springboks.

More importantly Wales have an abundance of talent to tap into. Lee, Andrew Coombs, Aaron Shingler, Webb, Rhodri Williams, Owen Williams, Rhys Patchell, Cory Allen, Jordan Williams and Hallam Amos all deserve a shot. Liam Williams came in for Halfpenny against Scotland and, admittedly against 14 men, stood out.

Flogging the veterans and integral players in South Africa when there is a bigger prize on the horizon seems pointless.

There is little about his first-choice squad that Warren Gatland doesn't already know, plus a November schedule and next year's Six Nations to come in which to integrate new tactics into rested stars.

Wales will look for revenge against Ireland and England next year. Only bold, considerate decisions on selection will make that happen.

by Ben Coles

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