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Pack of eight: All you need to know about Wales

Ah, if it isn’t our old friends the Welsh. They may have given us St Patrick, but we’re not grateful any more.

Mike Phillips celebrates in Wellington.
Mike Phillips celebrates in Wellington.
Image: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Yer man, Gatland, is still the Coach?

Yes, formerly the main man on these shores, Warren Gatland is in his fifth year as the brains behind the Welsh jersey. The Hamilton-born kiwi loves nothing better than slagging off his opposite numbers. However, our Deccie has never quite drawn his ire like Eddie O’Sullivan did, you can probably chalk that one down to sour grapes.

How’d they get on last year?

Gatland was at the helm for one of only two Welsh wins in Dublin since the beginning of the century (he was coach of Ireland for the other). A very good coach he remains, but Wales have an almost France-like tendency to mix the sublime with the ridiculous. When a Grand Slam is on, they go all out. If things go wrong then they can tend to throw their hat at the whole thing.

Last year they finished fourth – behind Ireland on points difference. They beat Italy by eight points, Scotland by 18, and us by a try from cheating Mike Phillips. That game at the Millennium stadium should probably carry more cause for revenge than the World Cup quarter-final.

Yeah, their World Cup went down hill after beating us, though.

Wales finished fourth in the world, but the performance in Wellington was their finest in the World Cup. We should have seen it coming after they battered Fiji. The big talking point from the semi was Sam Warburton’s early red card, but even a man down Wales were immense.

They would have beaten France too had Stephen Jones not apparently refused to step into the pocket, but friend of The Score, The Coal Face blog, has taken to sadomasochism by watching the tape back numerous times and says, “I think it has been overplayed and actually don’t think Steve did a huge amount wrong.”

What are their strengths?

Where to start? This side’s greatest asset is it’s youth and collective spirit, but that belies the great skill level they possess along with it. The Welsh have always prided themselves on exciting, running rugby, jam-packed full of off-loads. This team is only different because they have bigger, faster ball carriers across the backline.

When they do click they can be devastating.

Star man?

The man who most exemplifies that envious mix of fire and ice is the hulking centre, Jamie Roberts. He was rumoured to be struggling for fitness ahead of Sunday, but has won his race.

The Welsh have a terrace anthem in which they sing of Roberts ‘he always get’s the ball over gain-lines’, rarely has a truer lyric been sang. Added to that uncanny ability he adds pace and some seriously soft hands.

Any old warhorses retired?

Warhorse isn’t the right word, but the Welsh have had few better servants than Shane Williams down the years. The jinking winger hung up his boots after the World Cup having amassed an incredible 58 tries over 87 caps in 11 years.

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18-year-old Harry Robinson is the young buck trying to fill that vacancy and he is joined in the squad by the uncapped Ashley Beck (centre), Rhodri Jones (prop) and Lou Reed (second row) as the conveyor belt keeps on rolling though the valleys.

How’s the kicker?

As is so often the case, it will depend on the fitness of the first choice 10. Rhys Priestland was touch and go for this game all week and today he was finally ruled in.

The Scarlets fly-half has just turned 25 and, with a dodgy ball, in the World Cup he managed to clock up an impressive 81% success rate – landing 13 from a6 attempts in his four appearances in New Zealand.

Of course, it’s not all down to him. Leigh Halfpenny will take on the long range penalties and when James Hook or Gavin Henson (don’t laugh) appear in the centre as well, it means plenty of Welsh options with the boot.

Any injury trouble?

A lot of doubts are hovering. Roberts and Priestland were given the all-clear, but injuries remain within the pack. Dan Lydiate’s ankle injury means a return to the blind side for Ryan Jones. The casualty list is complete by two absentees from the front and second row as Gethin Jenkins, Matthew Rees, Alun-Wyn Jones and Luke Charteris are all sidelined.

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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