Every rugby nerd loves it when their side announces the squad for an upcoming competition. The opportunity to put together their favorite XV, and then start to dream, is a moment that we can all look forward to. Wales have announced their squad for the upcoming World Cup, and now, Lloyd’s, Jones’, Williams’, and Jenkins’ the world over begin to dream of seeing the Webb Ellis Cup on its way to Cardiff.
Wales have been rather unpredictable this season. They went from a disappointing Autumn that saw them win just 2 of their 4 matches, to third in the 6 Nations, and while that may ostensibly be decidedly average, it does include a win over eventual champion Ireland in which Wales looked dominant for much of the match. Perhaps that Ireland match, and the massive 41 point win over Italy a week later will mark a change for Wales that will see them become more competitive on rugby’s ultimate stage.
There is no shortage of size or experience in the Welsh engine room, as the likes of Paul James, Gethin Jenkins, and Alun Wyn Jones will lead Warren Gatland’s men from the front. Samson Lee has his own gravitational pull at tight head, and was one of the stars for Wales in the 6 Nations, before his unfortunate ankle injury saw him out of commission. If healthy, the young tighthead will play a huge role in Wales’ run to escape the “Pool of Death” Scott Baldwin gained favor over Richard Hibbard in the 6 Nations, and the duo will be going to battle for the 2 shirt once again.
Alun Wyn Jones is pretty much a lock to start in the second row for Wales, but the question of who goes next to him is a big one. Young Jake Ball gained the starting spot in the Autumn with some good performances, but then poor showings in the 6 Nations saw the lanky Luke Charteris start over him. Charteris looked a lot better in open play, and his height means he is a great weapon in the lineout. Dominic Day has gained favor at Bath for his physical play, and he could work his way in as well.
Josh Navidi is very unlikely to miss out, but on the bright side this gives him time to cut his hair. Navidi was a dominant force for Cardiff all season long and is likely to be an impact player for Wales in the future. The annual battle for the back row in Wales will continue, as Justin Tipuric will be keen to get in, while the likes of Dan Lydiate, Taulupe Faletau, and Sam Warburton are unlikely to budge if they don’t have to. Dan Baker will also be fighting hard for a spot, having been an explosive, powerful, carrying threat for Ospreys all season long.
Pro12 Player of the year Rhys Webb will be likely to hang onto the 9 shirt for Wales, after exploding onto the scene this season. Webb has a nose for the line, and has made a habit of scoring tries, scoring against, Australia, New Zealand, England, and Scotland. Webb’s distribution and decision making was excellent for Wales, and he will form the core of the Welsh side in the future. The backup isn’t too shabby for Wales either, with British and Irish Lion Mike Phillips off the bench, and Gareth Davies is another good option. The battle for 10 will be fascinating, with the likes of Dan Biggar, Gareth Anscombe, James Hook, Matthew Morgan, Rhys Priestland, and Rhys Patchell are all fighting for a shot in the red jersey.
Jonathan Davies injury means that Scott Williams is likely to be the starting outside center for Wales, and Williams will take the opportunity with both hands. A quality option at outside center, Williams scored the game winning try against Ireland, and has been in superb form this season. Jamie Roberts will start at inside and do what he does best, cross the gainline, and offload. Roberts is the focal point of the Welsh backline. When he crosses the gainline, and keeps the opposition on the back foot, Wales win, when he doesn’t, they don’t. Thats not to say that Roberts is more important than the team, he just is a very large part of the Welsh game plan.
George North’s long road back from concussion continues, but Wales do have talented wingers if he is not ready when the tournament starts. Alex Cuthbert’s two try performance for the Barbarians against Ireland puts him right back in contention for a starting spot, while the man who replaced him, Liam Williams, is still in phenomenal form. Then of course there’s the electric Eli Walker who can be unstoppable when healthy. Youngster Hallam Amos has had a fantastic season, and Warren Gatland might be keen to give him a chance, should North be unavailable. Leigh Halfpenny will be excited to get going for Wales again, and his pinpoint goal kicking could be a huge difference maker for his country. Halfpenny helped Toulon put the nail in the coffin against Clermont and Leinster, and he will be looking to do the same for Wales.
This is a very talented side, capable of scoring from anywhere and defending with reckless abandon. However, the problems with Wales never could be found in the quality of the player, rather it could be found in their consistency. Wales have gone down a dangerous, rather French path, and this a path that can be hard to get off of. So the question is, come August, which Wales will show up?