Planet Rugby

Six Nations preview: Wales

30th January 2013 14:41

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Sam Warburton Wales 2013

Captain under pressure: Sam Warburton

With the Six Nations set for kick-off this weekend, Planet Rugby takes a look at each team's chances in 2013. Next up, Wales!

Last season's Grand Slam winners followed up their success in the Six Nations with a torrid run of seven consecutive defeats, meaning that many appear to have already written off a Welsh title defence.

Last year: Wales could do no wrong in 2012. Their pack were dogged, their defence resolute and at times they produced brilliant attacking rugby through giant wingers Alex Cuthbert and George North. The high of reaching the semi-finals at the Rugby World Cup the previous year swept through into spring, with the likes of Leigh Halfpenny, Sam Warburton and Rhys Priestland all continuing their run of form.

In fact, Wales were so good that a series win in Australia seemed on the cards back in June. Instead they returned empty handed from a tight series and followed it up in November with four losses on the bounce, including a surprise defeat against Samoa and another late heartbreaker against the Wallabies in Cardiff.

This year: Crucially, despite their record reading otherwise, Wales have been far from hugely outclassed in all of their recent losses. Such is the Welsh way that when at their lowest a championship is not out of the question, with a good example being how they followed up their demise at the 2007 Rugby World Cup with a Grand Slam the following year.

Warren Gatland will be absent from their preparations as he focuses on Lions duty and the side may suffer for it, with Rob Howley now tasked with steering the ship. Howley's record so far does not read well and any aspirations he holds of taking on the role full-time in the future will rely on an improvement in the Six Nations.

An injury crisis at lock has seen the management turn to stars both young - the talented duo of James King and Andrew Coombs - as well as old in the 31-year old uncapped Harlequin, Olly Kohn.

Howley has highlighted his side's scrum as a weapon but the line-out could well struggle without experienced heads, which will make the backs' afternoons no easier. With Priestland injured, the responsibility will fall to one of Dan Biggar - with the Ospreys currently in very good form for his region - or James Hook.

Key players: Warburton remains as captain but the big question is where he will play due to the form of Justin Tipuric. The Osprey was phenomenal in the Heineken Cup against Leicester and is now impossible to ignore.Halfpenny has showed time and again that he has a world-class boot, a factor that can help Wales edge out tight matches if needs be. Biggar for now appears to have the edge over Hook at fly-half and the question will be whether he can replicate his excellent form for the Ospreys at Test level.

Howley hailed the return of Adam Jones earlier in the week and the tighthead can be an attacking option for Wales at scrum-time if he has enough support from behind, all of which makes Lou Reed, with only two caps to his name, rather essential in the absence of Ryan Jones, Bradley Davies, Luke Charteris, Alun Wyn Jones and Ian Evans. The final key star is Jonathan Davies. The Lions stock of outside centres is currently deep with Brian O'Driscoll and Manu Tuilagi, but Davies has shown so far in his Test career that he has the ability to start for the touring side.

Prospects: Their recent record and injury list all indicate that Wales should be written off for the title, and yet it's not that simple. All their prospects hinge on the opening fixture against Ireland - start well and optimism will return. Lose, and the misery will continue.

Fixtures:

2 February: v Ireland - Home
9 February: v France - Away
23 February: v Italy - Away
10 March: v Scotland - Away
16 March: v England - Home

  • RBS Six Nations Fixtures
  • RBS Six Nations Table
RBS Six Nations Table
PosTeamPPts
1Ireland58
2England58
3Wales56
4France56
5Scotland52
6Italy50