The team that will face France on Friday night has been announced. As always, we take a look at the boys that will do battle at the Millennium Stadium and ask the question: has Gatland picked the right boys to beat Les Bleus?
First things first, here’s the team:
BACKS: Leigh Halfpenny, Alex Cuthbert, George North, Jamie Roberts, Liam Williams, Rhys Priestland, Rhys Webb.
FORWARDS: Gethin Jenkins, Richard Hibbard, Adam Jones, Luke Charteris, Alun Wyn Jones, Dan Lydiate, Sam Warburton (c), Taulupe Faletau.
REPLACEMENTS: Ken Owens, Paul James, Rhodri Jones, Jake Ball, Justin Tipuric, Mike Phillips, Dan Biggar, James Hook.
Let’s consider some of the big decisions that Gatland has made:
Pretty much business as usual for the pack
Gats has chosen to make just one change to the forward pack that was taken to the cleaners by Ireland, and to be frank, it’s concerning. Warren suggested after the Ireland game that he had a decision to make regarding whether to give those same players a chance to redeem themselves or to make some changes. He’s clearly chosen to give them a chance to redeem themselves, and whilst this is in part commendable, it illustrates perfectly how Gats has gone from a coach who picks on form to a coach who picks his favourites.
Gethin Jenkins, Adam Jones, Sam Warburton and Dan Lydiate are all being picked on reputation alone. This sends an appalling message to the players who aren’t getting in the side. Basically, unless you’re one of Gatland’s favourites, you stand next to no chance of getting selected. Lydiate in particular has been woeful for a long time now, and his selection beggars’ belief.
Amusingly, the only change that Gatland has made is the one change I wouldn’t have made. Luke Charteris was poor against Italy, and does not deserve to come straight back in, whilst bizarrely it seems that Andrew Coombs is carrying the can for the forward performance in Dublin, with the Dragons captain not even making the bench. This forward selection is most certainly not Gatland’s finest hour, and these boys had better make sure they vindicate the Kiwi’s decision on Friday.
Big Mike gets dropped in Big Shock
Although I think he’s been poor so far in the Six Nations, I didn’t think for one minute that Mike Phillips would actually be dropped. Although he’s our best scrum half, I’m glad he has been.
In my view, the Championship has gone, and we should now be focusing on the future, and in particular the runup to the 2015 World Cup. Mike may well be the 9 who plays at that World Cup, but I think it’s crucial that he is given some competition for his shirt. He has been far too complacent in recent months, and hopefully this demotion to the bench will give him the kick up the backside that he needs.
Rhys Webb looked fantastic against Treviso, but he will need to step up significantly against France. He was very poor when he came on against Italy and will need to improve exponentially in his first Six Nations start.
One thing’s for sure, Gatland dropping Phillips is a cast iron way to make sure that Mike is well and truly riled up when he comes off the bench on Friday.
Priestland retains the 10 shirt
Fresh from signing his new Scarlets contract, Rhys Priestland keeps the fly half position, and although I wouldn’t have made this decision, I think it’s difficult to argue with it. Priestland has had a lot of criticism in the first two games, but I don’t actually think he’s played too badly.
Dan Biggar made a compelling argument for selection during his 48 minutes for the Ospreys last week, and his reward is a bench spot. Perhaps the best thing about this is that it means Hook is no longer the 10 cover, meaning that if a centre or back three injury, we might finally get to see Hook in the wider channels again.
North moves to centre
I love George North. Perhaps too much. But I don’t like him at centre, especially outside Jamie Roberts.
Given the injury problems we have in the centre, it was pretty much a straight shootout between North and James Hook for the 13 shirt. Gatland’s justification for this decision is that North has played more games in the midfield this season than Hook has, and I suppose this point has some merit.
However, I have always been a huge fan of Hook at centre. He creates so much more space, and having a true distributor in the midfield is a fantastic way to get strike runners into the game. Hook is one of the few Welsh players who looks to have a lot of time on the ball, and I strongly believe that he was the right choice to replace Scott Williams.
Liam Williams comes onto the wing
Nothing against Liam, but I disapprove of this decision. The guy had an extremely poor game against Ireland, and yet is rewarded with a starting spot against France in our biggest game of the year so far. I can only imagine he’s dazzling everyone in training as I don’t see any other reason why he would be picked.
Obviously as soon as you move George to centre (a decision which I have already taken issue with) then you are of course left with a spot on the wing, but wouldn’t it have been more prudent to put Halfpenny on the wing and put James Hook at fullback? That way we’d have a regular fullback (who is playing well at fullback, unlike Halfpenny) at 15 who could also provide more attacking emphasis and better distribution skills.
Liam seems like a nice kid, but I’m afraid that I maintain that he is simply not ready for international rugby. He occasionally looks good with ball in hand, but defensively he is certainly suspect. What’s even odder is that he isn’t really a Gatland-type player. I’m bemused.
Coombs doesn’t make the bench
I think the decision to omit Coombs from the bench is a travesty. The guy was one of the only players to put his hand up against Ireland and his reward is being dumped out of the 23. Very shoddy.
What do you think of the team selection? Let us know in the box below.