After a dismal autumn under Wayne Pivac, Welsh rugby has been given a much-needed boost with the return of Warren Gatland as Wales manager, but I wonder if people are putting too much hope on his shoulders.

I hear that Wales are unexpectedly fighting for the Six Nations title again when the tournament starts at the weekend, but truth be told fifth is an improvement on our position under Pivac last year.

Personally I want to at least see us in a serious battle with England for third place, recognizing that Ireland and France are in a class of their own at the moment.

Sir Clive Woodward advises Wales to impress Ireland in first Six Nations game

But Gatland has a lot going on. Last but not least, you’ll need to experiment a bit with your chosen old-school game time management, while still providing the right opportunities for younger team members. This is not ideal during the FIFA World Cup, when the Six Nations must be used as a foundation in your best team, improving tactics and game models.

In my eyes, Gatland’s biggest problem at age 12. In his first spell as Wales manager, he had a very clear style of play. Warrenball, as it became known, advanced before earning a deflected goal, and over the years this approach was pioneered by Jamie Roberts, followed by Hadley Parkes.

I’m not sure Gatland has those kinds of people to turn to right now. You’ll want to look to younger centers like Joe Hawkins, Mason Grady, Keiran Williams to see if they’re a solution. May I suggest a radical alternative in the form of George North?

Roberts used to be a winger or winger. It was Gatland who saw the value in turning him into an inside centre, where his mammoth runs made him a key figure for Wales and indeed the Lions. North is similar, made a name for himself as a winger, recently moved to 13, can Gatland take it a step further and move him to 12? Like Roberts, North has size and build and is extremely difficult to stop on offense.

There are two other main concerns I have about Wales. First, how Gatland replaced the injured Will Rowlands, our player of the tournament, in the final timeout. It’s a very heavy burden for Alan Wyn Jones at his age, younger players, as talented as they are, are not ready yet. Perhaps the only way to do this in the short term is to mix and match, start Alun Wynn and bring in one of the rookies early in the second half. But I’m a huge fan of Rowlands and their shoes are big to fill.

The third issue that worries me is the solidity of our bench. The other day I saw Sam Warburton, a referee no less, drooling in the depths of Wales and arguing that we would have our own version of Blast Squad. Unfortunately, I can’t help but agree.

South Africa’s explosive team is essentially the first-choice front row of Steven Kitschoff, Malcolm Marks and Vincent Koch, who come on in the second half to take advantage of opposition props and reserve hookers. The Boks’ three starters, Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi and Trevor Nyakane, are also as good as any top line in the world. So whatever combination they create, they are a formidable force.

I’m far from convinced that we can use Rhys Carre and Leon Brown in this conversation, because I think both have shown weaknesses in fights in the past. The last thing I want is to see him play early on for 60 minutes, Wales were extremely competitive, but then watch games disappear because we’re taking penalties from set pieces.

Gatland has to work on these things, let’s hope they find a solution. This is how I see Wales games in order of matches…

Wales v Ireland (4 February)

The Irish aren’t afraid to play against the best teams in the world, and for good reason, they enter the tournament as the No. 1 ranked team. They have won five of the last six Tests, including a 2-1 victory over New Zealand. In fact, since the fall of 2021, they’ve beaten up people in black three times.

They have a confident position, full of possession up front, and when the ball crosses the goal they have a talent for capitalizing. Josh van der Flier, Tadhg Beirne and Jonathan Sexton, who is still organizing well into his thirties, are its main leaders.

My concern for Wales is that this game started too early for Gatland to make their mark on Wales and, regardless of their home field advantage, the Irish are too formed as a unit. I suspect they may lose the title. The final will be at home to France in Dublin and I think Ireland will simply qualify.

I would love to be wrong and see Wales put them on the defensive early on, but sadly I don’t see that happening.

Pricey Prediction: Ireland by 10 points

Scotland v Wales (11 February)

They had a better fall than us and will have the Murrayfield factor in their favour. But Gatland got their players together for three weeks, they learned from the Ireland clash and I hope Wales go to Edinburgh and put on a great performance.

Pricey Prediction: Wales for a pair of penalties

Wales v England (25 February)

For me, this will be our decisive match of the tournament.

They are in a similar position to Wales, with a new manager appointed so close to the World Cup. Steve Borthwick as Gatland will bring fresh ideas, a new voice to the dressing room, which can be a motivating factor, and hopefully England will be a more disciplined and consistent force than they have been recently under Eddie Jones.

In particular, I’m hoping to see Maro Itoje return to the strength we’re used to, and Marcus Smith provide the talent to bring out the best in England’s defensive line.

England finished third last year, but it wasn’t a credible third place given how clearly behind France and Ireland they were. Like Wales they have a new defensive coach and how quickly Mike Forshaw and Kevin Sinfield spread their ideas will be a big factor in that.

He’s likely to press for a long time because I fear his power on the bench will change the game.

Pricey prediction: England for five

Italy – Wales (March 11)

We can’t lose to them again, right? Last year’s humiliation in Cardiff will no doubt give Wales additional motivation to avoid a repeat for the second consecutive year.

Italy followed that clash at the Stadio Principalita by defeating Australia in Rome. They are certainly on an upward curve, but it shouldn’t be difficult after losing 30 consecutive Six Nations games before beating Wales.

The calendar is disappointing for Italy, with France and Ireland at home and they won’t be able to reach those scalps. They are coming off defeats to England and Scotland so Wales in Rome is a key player they will be chasing.

Expect plenty of tries on either side, but Gatland won’t miss like Pivac’s team.

Face forecast: Wales at least 10, and probably more comfortably

France v Wales (March 18)

They are gearing up for their own World Cup and this will be the Frenchmen’s last competitive home match before the start of the tournament.

They continue to benefit from the Shaun Edwards factor in defense and discipline, while Antoine Dupont, Romain Ntamak and Gregory Aldritt have three of the best players in Europe. But France have been plagued by injuries and traveling to Dublin could be an obstacle to winning the championship.

Pricey prediction: Wales struggle in Paris, lose by two goals

Pricey Final Table







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Source: Wales Online