Personally I felt Wales were fortunate to take their place in the World Cup semi final. They were fortunate to receive a strong helping hand (/elbow) from Vahaaminha, pushing them over the line against France. But, on reflection, it could be said that they were unlucky to be denied a spot in the final by South Africa. It was neck and neck for the entirety of the game until Pollard put the Springboks ahead for the final time.
They eventually had to settle for fourth after a fairly one sided third place play off match against New Zealand.
Warren Gatland’s departure has left Welsh fans teary-eyed; his tenure has brought wild success to Welsh rugby and, with that, the expectation that Wales would always mount a title challenge. Teary-eyed too are the fans, because not everyone has heard of his successor.
So, who is Wayne Pivac, what brand of rugby will he employ and can he continue Gatland’s success?
Well, the Kiwi has coached the Scarlets for the last five seasons – so he’s more than familiar with Welsh rugby and the current squad. He now must try and fill the enormous boots of his predecessor, and as quickly at that.
There aren’t too many surprises in the squad that he’s picked. Alun-Wyn Jones remains captain after deciding not to retire after the World Cup. Perhaps he felt he needed to help Wales in this transition period towards France 2023. In the back row, their formidable options of Tipuric, Shingler, Navidi, Moriarty and Faletau will no doubt be a force at the turnover once again. Dan Biggar also continues to be first choice at fly half.
World Cup top try-scorer Josh Adams will look to continue his formidable international form, and starts against Italy. Uncapped Johnny McNicholl takes the other wing because Owen Lane suffered a bad hamstring injury in training last week. These two will partner Halfpenny in the back three.
George North moves to outside centre to complete a hard-running centre partnership with Parkes. It comes as somewhat of a surprise – despite that he was commonly deployed as a 13 at Northampton – because Saracen Nick Tompkins is yet to win a cap for Wales and you would have expected him to change that against Italy. Although, in the absence of Jonathan Davies, and with the strong competition on the wings for Wales, it’s no surprise that Pivac is exploring all options of trying to fill that crucial 13 role.
For all the promise that Pivac’s appointment has brought for passing and running rugby – it looks as though Wales have set up again for more ‘Warrenball’. We’ll have to wait and see how the tournament unfolds.
Wales have the toughest two away fixtures this year – to Ireland and England, and are likely to finish third behind both those teams. Can Wales prove the Algorithm wrong and cause an upset in Dublin or Twickenham? It wouldn’t be the first time they have done that…