Wales Head coach Warren Gatland and captain Sam Warburton face the press earlier. INPHO/Billy Stickland
In conference

Simon Hick's View from the Frontline: youth and young manhood

Warren Gatland will lead a fresh-faced Welsh side out to face Ireland this weekend. Here’s why.

IT WAS A content looking Warren Gatland at the team announcement in Wellington, and that wasn’t all down to the chubby cheeks.

For Wales, a country with limited resources, this selection was a revolution.

Today, he gave youth it’s voice.

In every position where he had an option, he went for the less experienced player. Leigh Halfpenny, George North, Jonathan Davies, Rhys Priestland, Luke Charteris, Dan Lydiate, Sam Warburton and Toby Faletau were not first choice a year ago, and many were not first choice even a month ago.

Wales have gone from being a grizzled old unit with lots of reliable campaigners to one that can’t find space for a trio of Lions in James Hook, Stephen Jones and Lee Byrne.

This new breed all bring a huge physicality too – each of them can carry the ball into contact and expect to come out on top, an aspect of the game Wales traditionally struggle with. This marriage of the dancing feet with the power game is something Gatland says he’s never seen in all his time with Wales.

Its not just the style of play that’s changed though. The culture and mood have been shaped by these young guns. Sam Warburton, a teetotaler, gym rat and now world-class flanker, thinks and talks about nothing but rugby.

Warburton is a player with real substance, now installed as captain and one that’s setting the tone for those below him.

This sea change in the national side has its roots in the provincial game. Three of the four – Cardiff, Ospreys and Llanelli – recently paid for brand new purpose-built all-seater stadiums. In their short histories none have been filled to capacity, and in the case of Llanelli, often only a quarter of the seats are occupied on game day.

This forced the provinces to sell off the older players on hefty wages, and to abandon the international market, meaning almost every provincial position in Wales was occupied by a young local on a streamlined salary. Performances and results suffered in the short term, but for Llanelli and Cardiff in particular, a whole new crop got game time at the eilte level.

This has been good news for Gatland and his management team, and its a situation they have reacted to quickly.

He said today that every now and then you have to shake things up, to keep everyone on their toes.

The Irish video analysts will certainly be alert, this could be one of the busiest days of their careers as they try to tap in to the new wave.

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