Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Six Nations Top Trumps: Wales

"We need to get off to a good start. If you don’t get off to a winning start, there is that added pressure and you’re always chasing.”

I couldn't agree with you more, Warren Gatland. 

Beware Martin Johnson's England on 6 February when Wales arrive at Twickenham.  Wales' coach Gatland is certainly talking the talk.  Gatland has focused on the inexperience of the England scrum as a weakness that will be targeted by his British and Irish Lions filled pack.  But will Wales fire in 2010?  In last year's tournament they slipped to a disappointing 4th place after clinching the Grand Slam in 2008, and losses to Australia and South Africa at Cardiff in November wasn't the ideal preparation.  Wales have two tough games away from home: at Twickenham on the opening weekend and then across the Irish sea at Croke Park.  With key players sidelined due to injury and with pundits questioning Wales' mental toughness, the pressure to perform is on. 

Here are their ratings:

Scrum: 85/100.
Wales have an excellent tight 5 including an all Lions front row in Adam Jones, Matthew Rees and Gethin Jenkins.  Alun Wynn Jones and either Ian Gough or Luke Charteris will add power in the boiler room.  Wales' opening game is against England at Twickenham, who with the absence of Sheridan and Vickery, are likely to field an internationally inexperienced front row.  Games are won and lost based on what happens up front, and the scrum is where Wales will look to dominate.  And I think they will.

Line-Out: 70/100.
With Alun Wynn Jones, Gough/Charteris and Ryan Jones as the jumpers, and Matthew Rees as the hooker, this is another set piece where Wales should excel.

Attacking Flair:  71/100.
Shane Williams is fit and will play on the wing, as will fellow Lion Leigh Halfpenny.  It's a shame that scrum-halves Mike Phillips and Dwayne Peel both miss the competition due to injury, as both are classy playmakers who snipe around the fringes of the scrum.  Richie Rees has been in fine form for the Cardiff Blues at this position though and is one to watch.  World class full back Lee Byrne will play against England after having his ban for being the Ospreys' 16th man in the Heineken Sup game against Leicester overturned.  Stephen Jones might not be a flamboyant fly-half but his magic point scoring boot more than makes up it.  And then there's Lion and Baa-Baa, Jamie Roberts, who is yet another world class player in the Wales team.  All in all, there is attacking flair oozing from this team, but can they string it together?

Defence:  45/100.
Wales' defence was well and truly dismantled in the 33-12 defeat by Australia in November.  The Wallabies ran in four tries which almost made Wales' defence coach, Shaun Edwards, implode with anger.  With such an array of attacking backs, Wales will have to tighten up on their defence to avoid leaving gaping holes on the counter attack.

Stadium: 73/100.
Millennium Stadium.  Capacity 74,500.

Snore Factor: 35/100.
It all depends if the Wales squad of 2010 will emulate their inconsistent performances of last year or their Grand Slam campaign of 2008.  I think it's likely to be somewhere in between based on their opposition, with flashes of brilliance balanced with a certain lack of incision.

Phwoargh Factor: 55/100
Lee "Tango Tan" Byrne, James "I'll play anywhere" Hook and Jonathan "No, not the pundit" Davies are the main attractions in this category.  Mike Phillips is a big loss in this department, and some might argue that the lesser spotted Gavin Henson will be missed.  On the whole it's slim pickings though, unless you like big hair that is.  If that's the case, then Adam Jones is the man for you.

Scandal Potential: 34/100.
Medium.  Nothing too controversial, but I'd suggest that Wales' opposition keep taking a quick headcount during the game, just to make sure that Lee Byrne hasn't sneaked on from the sidelines.

As for the final standings:
Last season: 4th.
Prediction for this season: 4th.

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