For a country with rugby so ingrained in their culture as Wales, it is surprising that the best result they have achieved at a World Cup is 3rd at the inaugural tournament in 1987.
This time around, legendary coach Warren Gatland is looking to sign off his Wales career in style at Japan 2019. The question is, has he missed the boat?
Are Wales developing young players?
For the 2016/17 season, the Wales management announced that their target was to secure a high world ranking position. And you can understand this. Avoiding being drawn in another pool of death, as they were in 2015, was paramount. Because of this, there was an extremely conservative selection policy, awarding 0 new caps during the last Six Nations. Up until the South Pacific tour this summer, Wales had capped just three new players.
Why are so few new players getting selected?
Wales have no functioning ‘B’ team like the England Saxons or the Maori All Blacks. Wales’ official second team is the under 20s side, meaning players are only in development for a maximum of two years. And then some have multiple season gaps before getting a chance with the senior team.
Also, Wales rarely play opposition where they feel they can experiment. They haven’t played the Barbarians since 2012 and they only play a tier two nation once a year where all the young and inexperienced players get thrown in at once leading to some very poor results.
How are the performances?
Wales have won just four matches in 14 against the top 8 ranked nations.
They have won 0 in 7 against the top 3 teams.
They average just 2.22 tries a game in the last two years.
What are the reasons for this bad record?
Wales’ preparation has been hampered by Warren Gatland going on Lions duty for an entire season. One-quarter of a World Cup cycle has been overseen by a different coach. Rob Howley was made temporary head coach but led the team to their lowest Six Nations position in 10 years.
Wales have also tried to change the style of play without changing the personnel. The consistent selection of Jamie Roberts at 12 has typified this. The big centre is far more inclined to take the ball into contact than to exploit space or produce an offload.
Are there any signs of change?
With Jamie Roberts being dropped and Liam Williams being selected at Fullback for the Lions, there is hope among many that Wales’ game plan could be being brought up to date. Employing two playmakers at 10 and 12 and a more counter-attacking backline suggests this. With more young players than ever selected for the autumn squad, Wales could theoretically start a team with less than 50 caps between them.
Wales need to stick with these young players. Why? Because otherwise, they might get to Japan with a starting team of ageing players and a bench of inexperienced youngsters. One thing that is for sure is that the public is paying close attention to the selections, the performances and the results this November during an extremely tough fixture list.
Author: Huw Griffin
I live in the UK and work in engineering by day, but watch sport by weekend! I came to rugby a little later in life than many, but when my grandfather introduced me to the sport I was hooked from day one. You’ll find most of what I say is about Welsh rugby, hopefully one day it will be positive!