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Six Nations preview: injury-hit Wales look set to struggle

With the Six Nations opener around the corner, part two of our tournament preview series focuses on one of the teams set for Friday night lights.

Image: Tim Hales/AP/Press Association Images

THEY WERE GRAND Slam Champions in 2008. They nearly denied us of our very own slam 12 months later. But since then, it has all gone a little bit pear-shaped for Warren Gatland’s Wales.

Can they bounce back over the next seven weeks? Probably not, but we’ll give you the facts and let you make your own mind up.

How did they do in 2010? Finished fourth, only managing wins against Scotland and Italy. Although, to be fair, the second-half comeback against Scotland was probably worth four points in its own right.

And against Ireland? We held them to four Stephen Jones penalties in Croker, running out winners by 27 points to 12.

This time around? It’s really not looking good for Wales, is it? Gatland’s number one priority will have to be to arrest the stunning decline in form which has kicked in over the past 18 months. Defeats against the All-Blacks and the Springboks  alongside a draw against Fiji in the autumn internationals didn’t really provide much respite or cause for optimism.

The galling thing for Gatland and his team is that, although they have the quality to turn things around, they are missing a lot of star talent through injury and suspension. Props Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones, centre Tom Shanklin and wing George North have all been ruled out for the duration of the tournament, while back-up scrum-half Richie Rees’ suspension for eye-gouging doesn’t expire until the end of March.

Nonetheless, Wales still have the quality to put up a fight against any of the main contenders. One can’t help but think, however, that this year’s tournament might be more profitably used as a testing ground as Gatland bloods some new recruits for the future. With that in mind, keep an eye on Cardiff Blues’ Sam Warburton who has been drafted into the side in the place of ageing flanker Martyn Williams.

Key Man? Lock Alun-Wyn Jones is rapidly becoming recognised as one of the best in the world in his position. The 25-year-old will be anxious to atone for his indiscretion in Twickenham last year when his sin-binning cost Wales 17 points and, ultimately, the game.

One to Watch? Under normal circumstances he may not have been Gatland’s first-choice , but squad injuries have handed Scarlets’ centre Jonathan Davies  his chance to shine. The 22-year-old will almost certainly partner Jamie Roberts in the centre and the duo’s performances will serve as an excellent barometer for the Welsh campaign as a whole.

The bookies say? 7/1

TheScore says? There’s always next year, lads.

Pick of the archives? It has to be last season’s dramatic comeback against Scotland, which just about pips this remarkable effort from Phil Bennett which has stood the test of time over the last 30-plus years. One question – following Stephen Jones’s 79th-minute penalty, why did the Scots not just run the ball into touch? A year on, we’re still trying to work it out.


Forwards (16): Paul James (Ospreys), John Yapp (Cardiff Blues), Craig Mitchell (Ospreys), Ryan Bevington (Ospreys), Scott Andrews (Cardiff Blues), Matthew Rees (Scarlets, capt), Richard Hibbard (Ospreys), Alun-Wynn Jones (Ospreys), Bradley Davies (Cardiff Blues), Ryan Jones (Ospreys), Sam Warburton (Cardiff Blues), Jonathan Thomas (Ospreys), Josh Turnbull (Scarlets), Dan Lydiate (Newport Gwent Dragons), Toby Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons), Andy Powell (Wasps).

Backs (12): Lee Byrne (Ospreys), Leigh Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues), Morgan Stoddart (Scarlets), Shane Williams (Ospreys), Jonathan Davies (Scarlets), Jamie Roberts (Cardiff Blues), James Hook (Ospreys), Rhys Priestland (Scarlets), Stephen Jones (Scarlets), Mike Phillips (Ospreys), Dwyane Peel (Sale Sharks), Tavis Knoyle (Scarlets).

Schedule

Friday 4 February (19:45) Wales vs England

Saturday 12 February  (17:00) Scotland vs Wales

Saturday 26 February (14:30) Italy vs Wales

Saturday 12 March (17:00) Wales vs Ireland

Saturday 19 March (19:45) France vs Wales

Do Wales have any chance? Which of the main contenders do they have the best chance of turning over?

Read the other previews in our Six Nations series which started this morning with France | Brian O’Driscoll reacts to Will Carling’s unconventional preview of the RBS Six Nations | Injuries no insult for Ireland |

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About the author:

Niall Kelly

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