Wales finally have strength in depth...so who actually starts!?

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Wales finally have strength in depth...so who actually starts!?

Post by miaow on Mon 26 Nov 2018, 1:41 am

majesticimperialman wrote:Is the Welsh team that played against the Boks  the team for the coming 6ns/world cup?

Or is there more players to come back in to the team/squad?

A few people have answered this in another thread, but I thought I'd start a new thread, add my thoughts, and see what others think on this and a few other general points surrounding the Welsh team.

The interesting, and perhaps 'good' thing, is that - for the first time in a long time - there is almost no 'first 'team'. There are no real stars in the team anymore - either the likes of Alfie, Ryan Jones, Henson etc., or later with the Galacticos, and even then the more recent 'Warburton' crop etc with Roberts, Lydiate, North, even Halfpenny being picked and still lauded by the casual Welsh rugby fan because of notoriety rather than form/ability.

There are still 'stars' in the team, of course, but for some reason it feels like they don't have that aura around them any more - perhaps because they haven't won anything with Wales for a while, even if they've performed for the Lions. In the best possible way, I think that's a good thing. What I'm trying to say, in a roundabout way, is that there appears to be more humility within the squad - ethics, values etc - as well as an acceptance that you actually are now only a bad game or two away from losing the shirt. A few things contribute to this, but the second and third choice players actually turning up for the first time in Gatland's reign (barring the RWC '11 when he opted for the youngsters like Warburton, Lydiate, Faletau, North etc. en masse) is the most important one; the fact they've produced both individually when called upon, and collectively in the last two summer tours, has meant he hasn't had to do an Aled Brew/Deiniol Jones/Dan Biggar (Samoa '09, seems so long ago...) and cut short the playing career of a reserve, giving the first choice player an almost iron-clad guarantee they'll be picked. Biggar, Jamie Roberts, Scott Williams, Dan Lydiate, Justin Tipuric, Halfpenny, North and Liam Williams have all been pressurised into producing better and more consistent rugby, or dropped. Almost to a man, those who have been retained have responded.

This results in a team in transition, which is exactly where Gatland seemingly wants his teams before a RWC. 2010/11 was the worst season of Gatland's reign in many ways, and then like that he produces arguably the best team Wales have had in his tenure. 2015 6Ns they played very little football, only changing the way they attacked from rucks in the warm up games - but for some shocking mental strength and attacking nerve against Australia, they would have won their group later than year in the RWC. Despite the injuries suffered, who knows how they would have fared against Scotland and then Argentina. This time, in 2018, winning games has probably allowed Wales to do a bit more in terms of varying their attack early on this time, because they look fit/strong/driven enough this autumn, which is never normally the case - it always felt like lots of effort was going on building them up so as not to fail, rather than to win. Those foundations are more solid now and I wouldn't expect as dramatic a change in performance come Japan next year, but make no mistake, Gatland will have plenty up his sleeve come Japan. I wouldn't be surprised if Wales are somewhat disappointing this 6Ns because of this - maybe a 3rd or 4th place finish. That said, I also have a feeling Gatland may fancy his chances for one last title. Wales haven't won anything since 2013, which feels both fair and like a slight underachievement. It cannot be dismissed the importance of having him 'here', rather than off with the Lions - or nursing his heels in NZ - for a good, sustained period of time. With England and Ireland at home, Italy looking poor, France looking bulkier and poor, and Scotland looking dangerous but physically weak, a Grand Slam or 6Ns title isn't out of the equation. I think Wales can squeeze Ireland (some claim, but they did it in 2015 and 2017) - having not beaten England for a long time in the 6Ns (2013! Incredible - definitely something of a stumbling block) despite having dominated the 2017 fixture, Wales really need to put them away. Deal with their physical threat, play ruthlessly on the counter, and England will switch off/show their weaknesses. They're a hot and cold team; potentially devastating but, a bit like a (much better) Australia, they're clearly not a 'complete' team (unlike, say, Ireland).

Strangely, in terms of the dynamic of the team, I'd say Warburton retiring has probably left a gap in the team with regard to leadership (obviously) but also 'star' potential. He's Gatland's boy. He was the bedrock of the side - the captain, but more importantly the player and the man the team is built around. In many ways, this team seems to still very much have his imprint there - hard working, dedicated, a bit too puritanical at times, but with the added niggle of AWJ as captain it feels more 'natural'. With both of them thre, regardless of who was captain, it felt a bit...not like there was a power struggle, but that one would always be slightly frustrated at not leading the team. If you have, say, BoD and PoC - fine, different areas of the pitch, v different roles, it works. For a workhorse forward and a workhorse back rower - with a chippy number 10 in there who likes a moan as well - there were too many cooks. With AWJ as captain, he feels like the leader surrounded by lots of vice captains - Tipuric, Ellis Jenkins, Biggar, Jon Davies, Ken Owens. Warburton could never be that - he's too big, too important, too good a captain.

Come knockout time at the RWC, I don't think there's a better person to have on the field than Warburton - as a captain or player. But him not being there has allowed a sustained run of games for a few players to shine - namely Tipuric, Shingler, and Navidi. Ultimately, only Tipuric may start of those 3, but Warburton's absence has allowed/forced Gatland to nail down the 6 shirt. Tipuric and Warburton never really worked - for whatever reason, and there's loads that can be considered. The main ones are the coaches didn't like/trust it, but I also think it wasn't good enough, either. Warburton was incredible, and diversified his game as time went on, but he was still a fetcher. They were different players - Tipuric playing wide in the Ben Coles role in the loose, Warburton 'taking away' more opposition players at the breakdown - but not different enough. Certainly, against the likes of South Africa or England, without players like Jake Ball, North, or Ken Owens to do some hard grunt work, you never got to see each player shine with two opensides on the flanks. It wasn't dreadful, but I think the Welsh backrow is much more balanced now.

Which leads me on to the next point: the fact that Wales finally have an interchangeable side. As alluded to above, there are many 50:50 calls. Of the spine of the team Gatland could pick, I can think of only 3 players who he will pick irrespective of form. They are AWJ, Faletau, and Jonathan Davies; that's 5, 8, and 13. Massively important positions, but 2, 9, 10, and 15 aren't nailed on like they used to be. Hibbard, Phillips, Biggar, and Halfpenny have been his favourites, but that's no longer the case in these positions. I think Ken Owens isn't far off being integral at 2, and I'd say he should have been for a lot longer than he has been first choice for Wales, but for whatever reason Gatland has gone for Scott Baldwin and Jamie George ahead of him when, for me, he is a fair bit better than both, certainly the former.

At 9, I think this Autumn has really put the cat among the pigeons. Gareth Davies was always nipping at Webb's heels, and he undoubtedly has his strengths, but he also has poor game managemant relative to his other abilities. He's not at the Ben Youngs/Danny Care level of meltdown, but he can be frustrating - though he played well against South Africa, against Australia he was a liability in the second half. If Webb isn't 'loaned' to a Welsh region for the RWC next year, then I think Tomos Williams stands a very good chance of superceding him next summer and starting in Japan. I'll come on to that point at the end.

10 isn't too dissimilar. I think Gatland has actually opted for Anscombe now as his first choice 10, as was always his intention 3 years ago when he brought him over. However, if he has a shocker, or goes off form, or suffers a few niggles, he'll bring Biggar back, no problem. Or Patchell, depending on how he fares between now and next autumn. I think it will require one of Biggar or Anscombe suffering an injury, and Patchell making up for a shaky - although not dreadful - performance at Twickenham earlier this year, for Patchell to get the gametime to put him in the frame as #2, but if that does happen, it's money in the bank, and Patchell offers something the other two do not. Perhaps the best way to break down the 10 debate is to view it through the Pivac reign: Patchell will be Pivac's #10. There's almost no doubt about that. He might give one of the others a run in the shirt initially, particularly if they've had a great RWC beforehand, but eventually, if Stephen Jones does become attack coach, Wales will play with Patchell at 10. He's easily the most talented and complete player of the 3; however, that doesn't mean he's the best choice, and it certainly doesn't mean he's the best choice *right now*, 12 months away from a RWC, with Gatland as head coach. Anscombe is a nice compromise between the other 2; not as limited as Biggar, but not as flaky and inexperienced as Patchell is right now. He's not as talented at instinctively reading the play and executing the correct choice as Patchell (who is second only to Sexton in my opinion in the NH, better than Finn Russell or any 10 England will actually pick - haven't seen enough of Cipriani to compare the two), nor is he as tirelessly excellent at the dogged work Biggar gets through with the boot and in defence. But he's a happy medium - at least for Gatand. It's such a tentative hierachy, however, that it could easily change from the 6Ns to the summer to the RWC. Very much up in the air, but Anscombe is first choice; Gatland even telling the media to 'stop debating' this is a sign he doesn't want to be fielding questions or for the public to pick up on how tight this is, because pressurising any/all of the 3 will ultimately hurt the team. It's tight, but don't mention it - in fact, don't even look at it. Stop looking. It's Anscombe. Or Biggar. Maybe. Now go away...

15 is more simple I think - it's Leigh Halfpenny with Liam Williams on the wing. However, as he showed with the Lions, he'll happily drop an out of form 1/2P if required. Injuries are always Halfpenny's downfall - much like a few players who are there or thereabouts, but who may miss out from lack of playing time this season - and might be again, who knows, but in form, and playing with far more attacking confidence now he's been at the Scarlets, he's in the Ken Owens position of being almost-undroppable-but-not-quite.

Finally, I'll get round to the question that's been quoted. In short, I think the team for the 6Ns isn't necessarily the team that will be picked for the RWC - that'll be the apex, as it were, so I'll try to answer that with regards to who is in the first team.

1. Rob Evans is the best loosehead, but offers more from the bench than Nicky Smith. I honestly felt Wyn Jones was the second best #1 in Wales last season, pushing Rob Evans as a more 'old-school' (fatter, better scrummaging) prop than his clubmate. But Nicky Smith has stepped up at test level, and that's all that counts. 3 excellent options, if Gatland wants to maintain this second-wave from the bench - finishers, if you want - then Rob Evans maybe not start, despite being the 'best' loosehead prop. A few wobbles in the scrum, and Nicky Smith may get demoted to third-choice, though. I'd play Rob Evans, and think Gatland is simply giving Nicky Smith the starting minutes for experience rather than bedding him in as first choice, but it's very hard to tell. Precarious.

2. Ken Owens. Elliot Dee is having a stormer and really stepping up consistently considering he doesn't look test ready - still looks like a club player in terms of body shape and size (slim, rather than fat/out of shape). Fair play to him, he hasn't let Wales down at all. Really impressed by him. I dislike Kristian Dacey, something of the Cuthbert-looking-at-the-big-screen-while-grimacing-having-Frak-up about him. The hair makes him look like a poor man's Hibbard. Like he's trying a bit too hard to convince everyone he's...something I can't quite put my finger on. That he's tough? This isn't just a personal attack. What I'm trying to say is that he gives the impression of someone not really comfortable at test level. Like Cuthbert - someone so out of his depth, he was 'acting' half the time; he never got comfortable with himself, never felt at home with either his teammates nor himself on the field of play. This is absolutely a psychological thing, and in what is a practically impossible thing to prove, I get the same thing from Dacey. Partly, also, he's a very average rugby player, in the realm of Scott Baldwin. Scott Otten hasn't been given a shot, which is slightly surprising/disappointing - haven't watched him this season so unsure whether this is deserved or not. Ryan Elias is a phenomenal player. Like Wyn Jones, an excellent 3rd choice. Would be happy with him starting, but needs gametime - specifically Nicky Smith-esque gametime, i.e. as a starter. But Ken is still the man, no doubt.

3. 50:50 between Francis and Samson Lee. I would have had Francis out in front for the last two seasons as he had more to his game than Lee, but Samson's slimmed down and added a bit more skill to his game - tip on pass in the 6Ns? - and so it's Francis by a hair. It's practically indistinguishable, and I think Gatland may go for Lee starting and Francis coming on, which I think is the best way to use them. Big drop off to 3rd choice - Leon Brown hasn't really cut it for me, and Dillon Lewis (though excellent this when played) hasn't really been in a real test as such. Might be harsh on Lewis as I think he's 'got it', but just hasn't proven it in the heat of competition yet. Don't think he'd let Wales down when it comes; nor Brown would for that matter. Just wouldn't be sure of either at scrumtime, and for that reason, through no fault of their own, they're still liabilities.

4 & 5. AWJ. Jake Ball, Adam Beard, Cory Hill as his second choice. Seb Davies, Bradley Davies, Luke Charteris offering either youthful versatility of grizzled experience when push comes to shove/Wales have a glut of injuries in the group stage. It's horses for course this. I really, really like Jake Ball. Cannot praise him enough. Loved his linebreak and bump off against Tonga. More importantly, thought he was excellent but also vital against England in 2017. He is a rock with the ball in hand. Wales don't have those players. They just don't. They never really have. England do. They have Vunipola. But they've always had them. Martin Johnson. Dallaglio. They've always had them - big, strong, uncomplicated players who will make the opposition tackle. Ball's not as 'hard' as Johnson, but he's also now a lot more mobile and skillful. A bit like with Halfpenny, being at the Scarlets has seen him flourish and improve the elements of his game that are less 'natural' to him. He's got decent hands. He's surprisingly agile. He's a bit injury prone, and this may be his downfall, because he doesn't seem to be able to take a beating and get straight back into it the next game, but he is so important to Wales because they don't have players like him - someone who is not going to get bullied. Like an Adam Jones at second row - worth his weight in gold. That said, if you want to new Charteris for the lineout, you go Adam Beard, who clearly has great handling skills and stood up to a brutal South Africa pack. Cory Hill is like Elliot Dee- continues to impress despite not looking like a test player. I think it's between Ball and Beard to start, as Hill is more of an allrounder and a workhouse and neither tall enough as a defensive jumper (Australia's 6 10 locks) nor big enough as a lock against the South African/English scrums. But a great bench option, and clearly flourishing in the setup. Between Ball and Beard, I think it depends on who plays 6 i.e. do they have Shingler in the lineout or not. If not, Beard might be Gatland's choice. I'd be happy with that, but against the bigger teams (barring France who are sloppy as Smeg) Ball is crucial.

8. Let's get this out of the way. Faletau. Wales's best player. Moriarty a distant, but determined and reliable, understudy. Moving on...

7. Unbelievably tricky. 7 is Justin Tipuric. But could easily be Ellis Jenkins. I felt Gatland might be lining Jenkins up for the starting shirt before this autumn, but I think Tipuric has done enough - add in Jenkins' injury, and that should be decisive in who starts at openside. Sadly, I think that is how many positions will be decided for Japan, either in the lead up or during the tournament itself. Always horrible, but part of the game. Navidi a strong third choice who can cover all 3. For me, he's the only truly versatile back row player in that he could do a Pocock and pack down at 8 from now on an be excellent. Ellis Jenkins did amazingly from the base of the scrum against South Africa, but he's still more of an openside for me. Honestly though, with the way Wales play, the numbers on the back don't matter a huge deal when it comes to defence - it's more the personnel and how they line-up i.e. Tipuric will look to play wide in the phase play, or they look to get the ball to him when there's quick turnover ball. James Davies way off the equation, and not veratile enough to make the squad unfortunately. A few injuries and he may be in - he's ahead of Thomas Young, Ollie Griffiths, and Sam Cross, Macleod, Boyde, all of whom could do a job there too. I feel like there are more I'm forgetting because Wales are absolutely blessed at 7, but the key here is points of difference. If you're not Tipuric, you need to be able to slot in at #20, or even #6, and Jenkins and Navidi do that far better than James Davies.

6. For me, it's still Aaron Shingler, but this position gets dictated somewhat by who plays 7. Last time I posted on these boards was ahead of the Scotland game in the 6Ns to say he was the key player to how Wales were going to play, and he had a stormer (official man of the match). Suffering from injuries, as he has done throughout his career, and he may not make it back to this level - only time will tell. But he has something no other Welsh blindside can offer. Pacey, rangey, skillfull, athletic, tough as nails, can pinch a ball at the breakdown, and tactically astute. As a spot-blitz defender, he stood out (literally...) against England and Scotland. Criminally underused by Gatland in my opinion, particularly around 2013. Had something of an indian summer over the last 12-18 months in that it seemed his career was all but over, but thankfully he finally got the opportunity last season and grabbed it before this injury. If he can make it back - and in all likelihood that means not getting injured again before the RWC to develop match fitness - he could be one of the most important cogs in a post-Warburton Wales team. If he's injured, the whole back 5 has a competely different look. Next in line is, arguably, not a blindside flanker - someone like Jenkins, Navidi, or even Moriarty who can play that role decently enough. But it feels like a compromise on Shingler, in my opinion. In an era when the likes of Scott Barrett, Itoje, Lawes, and Sam Skinner are being picked at 6 as these 'third locks' to link the second and back rows more seamlessly, Shingler is Wales's best option here. Howeve, they've looked at Seb Davies this autumn in that role, and he did pretty well, but I don't think he's in serious contention of starting - more a good-to-know-we-can-if-desperate option. Aaron Wainwright did ok this autumn, was targeted by South Africa physically and didn't buckle, but I haven't seen the requisite point of difference to his game to really put him into a starting shirt - nice hands for Biggar's try against Tonga though. Like Cory Hill, workmanlike might translate into a squad place, and with an injury or two, a bench or even starting spot? Dan Lydiate has, unbelievably, given himself a chance with his performance against Australia. Gatland absolutely threw him a lifeline by picking him this autumn, and in fairness he did far better than expected against Australia; a player who steps up at test level, but for me is still too limited and one dimensional. Looked a lot sharper and fitter than he has done for a while though. Pedigree and experience, particularly without Warburton, work in his favour. Lydiate, Faletau, Tipuric isn't out of the question. I'd make Shingler nailed on if fit, but Gatland really did love Lydiate, and he didn't run away like Cuthbert. It's not out of the question that he takes the shirt next year.

9. Gareth Davies. Tomos Williams, with Aled Davies some way back. Can't see a way back for Webb unless an injury occurs in the RWC and Gatland says 'f the rules, I'm leaving in a fortnight...give me Webb!'. Plenty of adequate club players but no one comes close to the first two (3) choices Wales could pick - Lloyd Williams, Rhodri Williams etc.

10. Feel it's covered above. Anscombe. If Wales are really hit hard, there's a big gulf, but there are a few options. Interesting to see Dan Jones was ignored for Jarrod Evans this autumn - feel there is very little in that. Sam Davies could play his way back in if the Ospreys continue improving as the season goes on, but has suffered as that region has regressed/imploded.

12. Hadleigh Parkes. Not pulling up trees, nor a particularly standout player, but brings solidity. Scott Williams and, more likely, Owen Watkin cannot be too far away. Watkin in particular looks like Parkes' natural successor, the most well rounded #12 Wales have had since Henson. Which might not be saying much, but with 2-3 games in the 6Ns, I wouldn't rule him out from starting.

13. JD2. Scott Williams? Watkin? Of the dedicated outside-centres, is Tyler Morgan next in line? Cory Allen? That's some drop off, with no disrespect to Tyler Morgan, who hasn't really had the time to show what he's about (South Africa in the RWC as a literal boy, and then Tonga this year - v physical, and not where he will shine). Bit of a weakness here should Jon Davies get injured, as it'll likely involve playing a 12 at 13.

11 & 14.
Liam Williams and George North. Excellent, solid, well balanced wingers. Having them hitting form and combining...it's a really exciting prospect. It feels a long time - really since the days of Shane - since I can say I've been excited about the team getting the ball into the 3/4s, because it never really happened successfully with Roberts at 12, and a combination of personnel and lack of form meant Wales never executed or lived up to the threat they, on paper, possessed. North is guilty of that as much as anyone, but not playing for Northampton seems to have done him wonders. Didn't have an incredible, flashy autumn, but everything he did was good - much, much more reliable and threatening under the high ball, carried and stepped in the channels with aggression and intelligence. Finally the player he has threatened to be - even when not scoring wonder tries, he's consistently awkward and dangerous. Liam Williams is up there with Tipuric and Faletau as Wales's most naturally gifted players. If you're going to play for an English club, make sure it's the one that dominates almost every other team! It basically leaves Exeter and Saracens, so hopefully he doesn't suffer as North did when playing in the Premiership. After those two, there's a gap. Gatland doesn't like Steff Evans and I do understand it. He's arguably the most intelligent (rugby wise) winger Wales have, and maybe the most gifted with ball in hand, but he lacks that top, top speed which is so vital at this level. It's a real shame but I don't see a place for him in the #23. Josh Adams probably takes that shirt. Looks like he can fill in at full back, has more pace and power than Steff, and looks more solid defensively. Jonah Holmes has stood up and shown himself adequate if Liam Williams and/or Josh Adams gets injured - he can take that 14&15 place in the group if necessary, otherwise he doesn't make the RWC squad. Cuthbert seems finished, Hallam Amos is versatile but still lacks those physical attributes it seems. Luke Morgan has that pace, but didn't get the opportunity. Still v fresh to the 15 man game. Will be interesting to see what he can do for the rest of the season - a genuine bolter? Other than that, I can see a place in the 6Ns for a Cuthbert replacement as I feel like they've covered Liam Williams with Holmes, and Steff Evans with Morgan. Jarred Rosser? Owen Lane? Not out of the question. Feel like Ashton Hewitt and Keelan Giles are out of the equation until Pivac comes in.

15. Halfpenny. Depending on the game - Liam Williams. After that, I feel like it's squad filler: Anscombe, Patchell, Amos, Adams could all fill in there.

So that's my team. The final point I want to link back to is the fact that Gatland is sneaky. He's a sneaky man. For all his dedication to picking out of form players, and flogging-a-dead-Cuthbert, he's also prone to throwing a curveball in there on the biggest stage on a fairly regular occurrence. Liam Williams against NZ. Priestland in 2011 - although you could pick a few players from that era, Priestland stands out. These aren't just incidental players - they're not your openside winger, brought in because he's been tearing it up and you get the feeling he'll produce a try from nothing. This is the spine of the team in many cases with Gatland.

That's why I don't think it's unreasonable to think Patchell could end up as 10 for the WC. Or Tomos Williams. I think it's less likely this time, but it's not out of the question. Every position is under threat bar the 3 I think are certain. Any injury from now until the RWC opens the door for another player - it already has in the positions where players have been injured.

I'm really looking forward to Gatland's swansong. I'm glad it's ending on a relative high - even if he doesn't win either the 6Ns or the RWC. He seems much more mellow, much more circumspect and philosophical this autumn - I suppose personal circumstances will have played a large part there. But you also know he'll give everything in the RWC. The whole staff will be building for it, holding back plays etc. that will be unleashed at the right time. It makes, in many ways, a nice way to round off his tenure; it only feels like yesterday, in the autumn of '08, when he was berating his Grand Slam team for not matching the likes of South Africa and New Zealand, throwing the game away. They never really kicked on into what he wanted from Wales - he got that level from the Lions, you feel - but he finally got those to SH scalps this autumn, and I think he'd love a crack at the All Blacks, particularly if Wales are in form, in the RWC knockout stages.

I'm very much looking forward to the next 12 months and Warren Gatland's goodbye. I hope it lives up to the promise, and I hope it isn't devastated by injuries!

miaow

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Re: Wales finally have strength in depth...so who actually starts!?

Post by Pie on Mon 26 Nov 2018, 5:02 am

I like this, but the thing to remember is Gats is now picking game based on 23 not 15.

Smith - jackal. Evans from bench when opens up
Owens - Dee
Francis/Lee
Beard/Ball
AWJ/Hill
Jenkins/Shingler/Lydiate/Moriarty - in that order
Tips/Jenkins/Cubby - likewise
Faletau/Navidi/Moriarty as above
Amazing bench options for back row

Webb?? Williams, Gareth, Aled
Anscombe/Patchell with Biggar to shut the door
Scott if fit- then Watkin over Parkes for me
JD2 - North backing up
North or Adams or Liam
Half or Liam, Anscombe

Wales now have probably 4 players in each position to do a job

In 2019 6 Nations they're replicating 05 fixtures and I am predicting a run off with Ireland in Cardiff for a Slam. That will be one helluva game.

Japan - Wales ought to win RWC group and play France or Argentina for a place in semis v England I think

I believe they will make final; they've learned game management, have an exceptional defense and take their chances. Meanwhile they have probably the most consistent kicker in the world backed up by Biggar.



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Re: Wales finally have strength in depth...so who actually starts!?

Post by LordDowlais on Mon 26 Nov 2018, 9:53 am

What people take for granted is, the fact that Wales, has such a depth of experience in their front row, for players at such a young age. Now we all know that people say that prop forwards do not hit their peak until their early thirties, but consider the following:-

Rob Evans - 26yrs old
Nicky Smith -24yrs old
Ryan Elias - 23yrs old
Wyn Jones 26yrs old
Leon Brown 22yrs old
Eliot Dee 24yrs old
Thomas Francis 26yrs old
Samson Lee 25yrs old
Dillon Lewis 22yrs old
Sam Parry 25yrs old
Scott Baldwin 30yrs old
Ken Owens 31yrs old
Rhodri Jones 26yrs old

There is a hell of a lot of experience in that list, and now doubt I have missed one or two, but when you consider Ken Owens is the old man at 31 years old, then is there any other nation who can boast that much experience with that much options at such young ages in the front row ?



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Re: Wales finally have strength in depth...so who actually starts!?

Post by miaow on Mon 26 Nov 2018, 10:05 am

Good point Dowlais. Would be interesting to see caps (and starts) to go along with that, as a few of those, like Sam Parry, presumably haven't had too much exposure at test level.

One point I think may be up for debate is whether props do peak in their 30s anymore. I think the way rugby has gone, and the way the academies or school systems prepare prospective pro player from an early age, by the time they're 18/19, a lot of players are well prepapred for top level rugby in many ways. I'd say there's probably a balance between fitness/mobility and experience for front row forwards that makes late 20s the 'peak' age nowadays, in general. Although, of course, it varies from player to player.

But still, good point to make. It would also be interesting to rank by age the 40-50 players available/who have played for Wales since the last RWC. Vast majority of them will be staying on for Pivac - other than voluntary retirement/taking a paycheck in France for the likes of Jon Davies or North, I think only AWJ is getting to the end stage, but I wouldn't write him off yet.

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Re: Wales finally have strength in depth...so who actually starts!?

Post by LordDowlais on Mon 26 Nov 2018, 10:29 am

Rob Evans - 31 senior caps
Nick Smith - 24 senior caps
Ryan Elias - 6 senior caps
Wyn Jones - 9 senior caps
Leon Brown - 4 senior caps
Elliot Dee - 13 senior caps
Thomas Francis - 36 senior caps
Samson Lee - 38 senior caps
Dillon Lewis - 8 senior caps
Scott Baldwin - 34 senior caps
Ken Owens - 60 senior caps
Rhodri Jones - 17 senior caps

And one I have missed, and I shouldn't have as he grew up on my estate:-

Kristian Dacey - 8 senior caps

All these have been taken off the WRU website, and I am not sure how up to date they are, I do not know if they have added the recent AI's caps to the website.




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Re: Wales finally have strength in depth...so who actually starts!?

Post by maestegmafia on Thu 06 Dec 2018, 10:48 am

Good read lads thanks

My area of concern is still the 10 /12 axis, I am not sure I agree we have enough creativity there currently. Of the options going into big games I think the ten will most likely be Biggar so I would like to see how he gels with Scott or Owen this six nations.

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Re: Wales finally have strength in depth...so who actually starts!?

Post by The Oracle on Thu 06 Dec 2018, 11:28 am

The strength in depth in positions always seems to come in waves for Wales, and we've struggled to have it all at the same time which has left us exposed.  In the past we've sometimes struggled for locks, then been pretty stocked for locks; struggled for props then had a glut; struggled for a good 10 and then had 3 at once; stuggled on with the same tired old threesome in the back row but now can't decide who to drop out of around 8 back row players!  I think scrum half has probably been the position where we've always had a few good options.  

This last year or so though I think has been our best for having a consistently high number of good options in the most positions, if that makes sense.  I agree with Maes but I think we're OK for creativity at 10.  Biggar is often criticised as being not-creative but he can be and certainly for the Ospreys he used to do a lot of creative stuff and not just ship the ball along - he makes breaks (or used to), high balls, grubbers, chips over the top, up 'n' unders (of which he used to be one of the best around at gathering his own kick), pin point kicks to the corner, and of course his passing is good and puts people in space.  Anscombe seems to be able to do a lot of that too and is getting more accustomed to and comfortable with international level.  Patchell has shown he can be a very creative 10 too - again I think he just needs more time at international level to get comfortable.  But certainly the Scarlets backs of Davies (9), Patchell (10), Parkes (12), JD2 (13) and Steff Evans on the wing (i.e. all current Wales options, lots of them first choice) are plenty creative and have scored some of the best tries I've seen in the last few years.

But the issue for me is the 12 and 13 shirt and the options after 1st choice or if they lose form.  So that's our area of lack of depth currently.  Watkin certainly seems up for the challenge though, and time will tell if he's the heir apparent to JD2.  I'm not convinced by Tyler Morgan.  And then it's all a bit bare at centre after that.  Again, it's one of those things where we've had a glut of options there in the past.  But now we're stocked everywhere but centre!


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Re: Wales finally have strength in depth...so who actually starts!?

Post by SecretFly on Thu 06 Dec 2018, 12:39 pm

Wales finally have strength in depth.. so who actually starts!?

................ same as the folks that usually start. The less shallow guys.

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Re: Wales finally have strength in depth...so who actually starts!?

Post by The Oracle on Thu 06 Dec 2018, 1:17 pm

No such thing as 'usual' starters now! Gone are the days of Phillips, to Biggar, to Roberts, to....smash!...... for years on end. Or the Lydiate, Warburton & Faletau trio where an injury to one was a national catastrophe. Sure, we'll probably be back to the good auld catastrophe days in good time but for the moment there are 2 or 3 very able and ample guys in nearly all positions. Which is unusual for us.
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Re: Wales finally have strength in depth...so who actually starts!?

Post by SecretFly on Thu 06 Dec 2018, 1:36 pm

It's unusual for all of us! But I'm liking it so far.

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Re: Wales finally have strength in depth...so who actually starts!?

Post by miaow on Thu 06 Dec 2018, 1:51 pm

Agree with that Oracle.

Wales can play good, attacking rugby with Biggar at 10. The problem is it's not his natural inclination to play flat, and he doesn't have seem to have the requisite running-and-passing game of the likes of Cipriani, Priestland, Patchell etc. that mean he can take it to the line then execute a split-second decision with accuracy. He is creative but it's the type of creativity he has - as you say, that's often with the boot. The issue is Biggar can't compete with a more natural running 10, particularly at international level. What he does bring is leadership, and why I still think he's Wales' best choice for the RWC, particularly from the bench.

The point about Biggar that stands out is how hard he's worked to improve his game. Remember when he was 21ish and couldn't/wouldn't tackle? Now he's an incredible defensive 10. Also, the way he reads players (charge down on Ford 2016 for try, intercept under his posts against England in 2017) comes, in part, from studying them, but the problem is it's a lot harder to do that in an attacking sense (forget the game where he was repeatedly intercepted recently, possibly England 2017? Or Ireland?).

Add in Parkes at 12, much like with Roberts, and Wales' inability to play close to the line at 10-12 becomes a problem. Wales become easy to read, which makes the opposition's defence much more aggressive, which in turn makes it harder to get over the gainline etc. That's when we get dragged back down into what I think people think of as Gatlandball - playing the percentages, holding onto the ball, trying to grind - rather than run - the opposition into making mistakes under pressure. That's why Anscombe starts, because he is a much better option at the moment than the next 'attacking' 12, and Biggar comes on if the game becomes attritional/close in the second half (see: SA last month). Also, if it's a toss up between attacking 10 or attacking 12, I think most NH teams would much rather the 12 be a reliable carrier than a second 5/8th if it was a choice between the two. Worth mentioning as well, Parkes is a lot better than Roberts in attack and can play a bit - he's got good hands in the tight and an offload under pressure/having made a half bust. The problem is it's not quite enough for a RWC.

Think this neatly leads into the 13 chat as well. Obviously a big drop off in class at 13 after JD2. Think I've said all that needs to be said about him defending the 13 channel on these boards over the last 2 years to be honest, so I think focusing on attack, the one issue I'd say is crying out to be fixed is creativity inside.

For me, despite his accolades, JD2 has underachieved for Wales. Mix of things - injuries, playing style, Roberts, and also perhaps going over the France - but particularly when it comes to his try-scoring. When he was outside Regan King in the late 00s/early 2010s, he was absolutely ruthless, regularly latching onto a delayed pop pass or getting on King's outside shoulder to run in a clean break from 20-30 yards. Add in his massive hand-off, and he's definitely an underrated finished.

Obviously, playing this way was impossible with Roberts at 12 because, with the best will in the world, Roberts was/is pretty useless at passing. With Biggar at 10, likewise, it rarely happened - with Priestland at 10, however, the ability to take it flat to the line and release JD2 did come off for Wales (at least once that I can remember).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VZKtrdD69go

It's not quite a textbook break, but it does show the difference in drawing the man and releasing JD2 rather than giving him the ball without holding a defender. He then goes on to finish a similar sort of try (3:06 in that video) coming onto the outside on a late arc and using his pace and power to score. North obviously obliterates the Irish backline, but it still takes a powerful angled run to score that.

The point I am making is this: finally, for the first time in a while, Davies scored a try like that for Wales this autumn. And it was because Anscombe can play flat to the line and release a pass. It's that simple. The difference having a 'creative passer' in the team can be massive for Wales, because it will release the outside backs. Yeah, Huw Jones makes a shocking attempt at the tackle, but it's still largely due to good timing between the 10 and 13.

Here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UQplVD1c8Hc

If Shingler was Wales' most important player last year, Jon Davies is undoubtedly Wales' most important player going into the RWC.

As a general point, Owen Watkin's long term injury was a massive shame, and we might have seen him come in at 12 had he not been injured. But also, generally, the shambles at the Ospreys is letting down the Welsh team. Can't help but feel it was a massive mistake for Scott Williams to move - even without the injury, I think it's infinitely better for his Wales prospects to be in and around the Scarlets set-up/Parkes than it is to be at a team/club that is imploding. If Watkin is to kick on, he needs to be in an environment where he's honing his talents rather than constantly running back underneath his posts against the better Pro14 teams. They're letting the Welsh team down by being atrocious even with a number of good quality, young test players.


Nice video on 'early' Jonathan Davies: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZ0-LeDbWPg


Last edited by miaow on Thu 06 Dec 2018, 6:00 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Re: Wales finally have strength in depth...so who actually starts!?

Post by The Oracle on Thu 06 Dec 2018, 3:15 pm

Good post miaow, and good points. Yes, I agree with all of that. The points you make above about Biggar vs Anscombe - this is where I like Patchell. I think he either is, or has the potential to be, the most creative of the three. He's perhaps the more naturally gifted running 10 of the three, in my opinion. And if the form guys going forward still happen to be Scarlets guys then his familiarity with them can only help the Wales cause. Especially in a tournament like the world cup - that familiarity with players around them could be priceless. He's perhaps a bit rougher round the edges than the others. But he's the youngest (I assume?!) and I think just he needs more time at this level. But the tries the Scarlets have been scoring over the past 2 or 3 years, with those backs who also come together for Wales, have been submlime and he's often been at the heart of it. And Parkes has played well in a creative backline with the others mentioned. So I wouldn't be sad or upset to see Patchell get the nod at 10 going forward. But I can understand why Gatland might want to take a more cautious approach. International rugby is not test rugby. It's often a war of attrition and more about the percentages (perhaps unfortunately). But who knows what will happen when Pivac and (probably) Stephen Jones come in!
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Re: Wales finally have strength in depth...so who actually starts!?

Post by maestegmafia Yesterday at 12:57 am

The Oracle wrote:No such thing as 'usual'  starters now!  Gone are the days of Phillips, to Biggar, to Roberts, to....smash!...... for years on end.  Or the Lydiate, Warburton & Faletau trio where an injury to one was a national catastrophe.  Sure, we'll probably be back to the good auld catastrophe days in good time but for the moment there are 2 or 3 very able and ample guys in nearly all positions.  Which is unusual for us.  

It’s only become unusual, we lost a lot of our best players to rugby league in the eighties and early nineties as well as the massive effect that closing so much industry in wales had on our nations demeanor. But forty years ago and more we had the strength and depth you see in the all blacks today.

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Re: Wales finally have strength in depth...so who actually starts!?

Post by Pie Today at 4:19 am

I can only pick 4 starters at the moment. Owens, AWJ, Tipuric and Foxy. Normally I would say that suggests a lack of understanding about what is the best team. But what Gatland has achieved in the space of 12 months is to have a 40 odd players all of whom you would be happy as starters and all of whom know their job. its not so much the individual personnel as the team orders that seem to have permanence; defend, defend defend, take your kicks when they present themselves and take your chances when you get into the opposition 22.


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Re: Wales finally have strength in depth...so who actually starts!?

Post by The Oracle Today at 8:12 am

I’m not sure I agree on Tipuric. See how hard is! I’d possibly have Faletau in as a definite starter, if/when fit. And Davies at 9 now that Webb is ruled out.
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Re: Wales finally have strength in depth...so who actually starts!?

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