Wales Six Nations Squad 2014

Amidst the turmoil currently surrounding Welsh rugby, Warren Gatland has today named his squad for this year’s Six Nations.  As is customary at The Coal Face, no Gatland squad announcement is complete without a thorough dissection of it, and we’ll get to that, but first, here’s the squad:

FORWARDS: Paul James, Gethin Jenkins, Ryan Bevington, Richard Hibbard, Ken Owens, Emyr Phillips, Adam Jones, Samson Lee, Rhodri Jones, Alun Wyn Jones, Luke Charteris, Ian Evans, Andrew Coombs, Ryan Jones, Justin Tipuric, Sam Warburton (c), Toby Faletau, Dan Lydiate, Aaron Shingler.

BACKS: Rhodri Williams, Mike Phillips, Rhys Webb, Dan Biggar, Rhys Priestland, James Hook, Jonathan Davies, Jamie Roberts, Scott Williams, Alex Cuthbert, George North, Leigh Halfpenny, Liam Williams.

Initial reaction

My first action upon reading this squad was to ponder whether Warren Gatland has run out of ideas. This squad is so ‘unrevolutionary’ – if that’s a word – that it is difficult to read to the end of it without feeling a little fatigued.

The big news is that every player he has picked has already been capped, and whilst to some that may seem like a positive thing (it’s a more experienced squad etc etc); to me it’s thoroughly depressing.

With the World Cup around 21 months away, Gatland should now be building for then.  We did a fantastic job last time, and we could have a fantastic chance at really going for it in 2015.  That building process needs to start now, and to me, the fact that Gatland will only name one more Six Nations squad before we do battle in the World Cup indicates that the likelihood of the Kiwi bringing in any new players into the first team between now and then is slim.

So why is that a problem, you might ask?  I’ll tell you why.  Because the current players we have, playing in the style we are currently playing in, will not win the World Cup.  No chance.  Sure, they can dominate the Six Nations as we have done over the last five years, but they aren’t going to win the biggest tournament in the world.

These players, playing in this gameplan have shown time and time again that unless we change what we are doing, we cannot beat the southern hemisphere teams.  In Gatland’s tenure we have beaten a southern hemisphere side only once.  Since that win, in 2008, we have become an even more one-dimensional side, and while this way of playing has yielded significant success in the north; it has been proved beyond any doubt to be an unsatisfactory way of winning against the southern hemisphere.

My line of thinking was cemented in December as yet again we came up short against South Africa and Australia.  To me, the way forward was crystal clear.  We must experiment with our gameplan and we must bring in some more creative players.  This squad selection is a sad testament to the fact that Gatland and I do not agree.  The Kiwi may wonder why there was a muted reception to the fact that he had signed a contract until 2019.  I believe that my concerns (shared by plenty of others) more than account for that muted reception.

Gatland goes for what he knows

In my mind, the ninth loss on the bounce to Australia proved conclusively that we need to change our approach.  Not just a tweak, but a wholesale change.  Most people I spoke to were in agreement.

This Welsh team has come to be defined by their rock solid defensive wall, their tactical kicking and their battering rams.  The whole world knows what they’re going to do; it’s just that most of the world can’t stop it.  Crucially though, three teams can.  Time and time again.

Cast your eye down that list of players and look for a player that exhibits genuine creativity.  Look for a player who is able to create something out of nothing.  Look for a player who can pass with distance and accuracy.  Look for a player who can sidestep his way out of trouble.  Look for a player with a real rugby brain.

You might have spotted a precious few players, but you can bet your bottom dollar that they won’t be starting.  We all know that barring injury, this will be the team that plays against Italy:

1. Gethin Jenkins 2. Richard Hibbard 3. Adam Jones 4. Alun-Wyn Jones 6. Dan Lydiate 7. Sam Warburton 8. Toby Faletau 9. Mike Phillips 10. Dan Biggar/Rhys Priestland 11. George North 12. Jamie Roberts 13. Scott Williams 14. Alex Cuthbert 15. Leigh Halfpenny

This is ostensibly the side that has brought us considerable northern hemisphere success and zero southern hemisphere success.  Gatland has clearly gone for what he knows, but in doing so, he has made it clear that he does not currently have further ambition for this side.  Either that, or he is deluded into thinking that his brand of bish bash bosh is suddenly going to work against one of the big three.  Sorry Warren it’s not.

And so to the squad

Rant over.  Well, not quite.  I’ve already outlined that I believe the Gatland ideology has now become one-dimensional and unambitious, but now that we’ve got this squad, let’s take a look at it in a bit more detail:

1) Why has he picked so many injured players without replacements?

I suppose – given how crucial they are to the gameplan – it is understandable that Gatland has picked Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies despite them both being injured.  Gatland clearly hopes to have Roberts available to him for the opening game, and Davies for the final three.

 But what I really can’t understand is why on earth there isn’t more cover for them.  Foxy will definitely miss the first game, but yet Gatland has only named three centres (four if you include Hook who hasn’t played there in about 18 months).  Not picking players who can back Roberts and Davies up only increases the pressure on them to get fit.  This could lead to them being rushed back and result in further injuries.

Obviously there aren’t currently a lot of centres available, and it may be that the management are planning to push North into the middle, but if that’s the case, why aren’t there more wingers in the squad?

2) Gatland’s favourites

Stretching back right to the beginning of his tenure, Gatland has often been accused of not picking on form.  At times this has been positive as he has stuck by players who weren’t playing well and brought them through a bad patch (i.e. Mike Phillips).  At other times, it has been highly negative (i.e. Andy Powell, Ryan Jones, Gareth Cooper, Lee Byrne, Rhys Priestland, Jonathan Thomas).

 Nothing has changed this year.  The form flanker in Wales has been Sam Lewis and there is no place for him.  Arguably one of the worst performing flankers has been Dan Lydiate; and yet his position is safe as houses.  Predictable? Yes.  Disappointing? Even more so.

 3) Rhys Webb wins his place back

 I’ll admit to being pleased about the fact that Webb has regained a place in the squad, after a difficult year for the Bridgend-born nine.  However, the likelihood of him getting any significant gametime is slim.

 Is it harsh on Lloyd Williams?  Yes, probably.  Let’s hope that Lloyd can use this omission as a springboard to up his level of performance; as the scrum half hasn’t really progressed much in the last year or so.

 4) Will James Hook play a bit part role once again?

 This is probably the thing that I’m most interested in ascertaining.  In my opinion, despite his faults, Hooky is the kind of player we need if we are to have any chance of toppling the southern hemisphere giants.  Will he be given more of a role?  If not, what is the point in him traipsing over from France?

I’m sorry for the downbeat nature of this article, but I really cannot say that I’m inspired by this squad.  It looks to me like a squad picked to play the bog standard Welsh gameplan that is not good enough to beat the southern hemisphere.  After several years of getting used to facing it, it may not even be good enough to beat the north anymore.

Obviously I can’t wait for the tournament to begin, and I’m more than excited about seeing our boys take to the field, but I just can’t help but feel we’ve hit a glass ceiling that Gatland is resolutely ignoring.  Am I right?  Should I be more optimistic?  Let us know below.


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9 Responses to Wales Six Nations Squad 2014

  1. Jamie says:

    The only players I would have brought in would have been Jordan Williams, and as you mentioned Sam Lewis. Other than that I’m happy with the squad. I don’t like the idea of us experimenting during the Six Nations.

    Like it or not Gatland has gone for the tried and trusted formula which has brought us 2 Grand Slams, 6N Championship, and a World Cup Semi Final.

    Not everyone’s cup of tea but “Warrenball” works. Unless it’s an Southern Hemisphere team we play! But I believe that’s more of a mental block than tactical failure.

  2. Lee Hier says:

    I’m happy with the squad. I would like have more cover for the wings and centres but Gats said there’s likely to be extras added to the sqaud as the competition progresses. I’m glad he’s kept the injured players in because it let’s them know that it’s up to them to get fit and fight for the test spot.

    I don’t think we can change our game plan after this long. It wouldn’t make sense this close to a world cup. We know we can beat the North when we want but I think its psychological why we can’t beat the South not because of our strategy. A controversial forward pass decided against us against Australia. And a controversial offside went against us against South Africa. These games were decided by a few points and an officials opinion of the laws.

    We have a pretty settled squad but the injuries do worry me. I think we won’t beat Italy by alot in the first game, and that unless we beat England in Twickenham then we could lose the championship on points difference

  3. Jamie says:

    “I’m happy with the squad. I would like have more cover for the wings and centres but Gats said there’s likely to be extras added to the sqaud as the competition progresses”.

    Exactly. Supporters shouldn’t get too hung up on this as Gatland has the option of adding players and I’m sure that will be the case.

  4. woodster says:

    Thanks for your comments Lee and Jamie.

    As much as I’d love you to be right regarding our failure to beat the SH sides being a psychological issue as opposed to a tactical issue, I’m afraid I don’t agree.

    When you play against the best, you generally have to play good rugby to win. That’s not to say there aren’t exceptions (England 2003 springs to mind), but I am very much inclined to admit that this Welsh team is not one of those exceptions. If we had a 10 who could orchestrate proceedings like Jonny Wilkinson did in 2003, then we’d have a decent chance of being the SH sides playing Warrenball; but as it is we churn out this predictable gameplan that they know how to defend against.

    The suggestion that we were close to beating Australia and South Africa is erroneous in my view. Sure, the refereeing wasn’t fantastic, but if we look at the bigger picture we can see that we lost because they were much better than us.

    I just feel that this squad announcement is akin to saying, ‘we’re still no closer to beating the SH sides, but we know what beats the NH, so we’ll settle for that’.

    • Lee Hier says:

      I agree with a fair part of what you’re saying. But if you look over the last two seasons where we’ve been most dominant you have to look at our injury list through the autumn periods. All of our most important players have had at least a few weeks off each. Autumn just passed had no Jamie Roberts or Jon Davies and Owen Williams all in the centre out at some point. That’s 3rd choice centre partnership to play the best teams in the world. Also Cuthbert, Walker and Liam Williams got injured. Not to mention Adam Jones, Warburton, Bradley Davies and Gethin Jenkins all coming off. That’s half of our first team plus replacements.

      We didn’t do too badly considering South Africa had spent many weeks together playing some amazing rugby against the best opposition.
      I know that’s just one game but all of our last 6 games with Australia have gone against us with in the last moments because of tired bodies defending or naivety of one or two players.

      This can’t happen forever, one day it will click when we’ve got a squad who aren’t all limping and everyone will see that we are much closer than we think we’ve been. It’s still a young squad, our time will come.

      • woodster says:

        I hope you’re right Lee. I just feel like we’ve been saying that for too long.

  5. richardhead says:

    On form the following players would be in…
    Sam Hobbs
    Jake Ball
    Sam Lewis
    Gareth Davies (Scarlets 9)
    Owen Williams (Leicester 10)
    Dan Evans/Lee Byrne

    If Gatland wanted some much needed creativity he could have included…
    Dwayne Peel
    Gavin Henson
    Jordan Williams
    Eli Walker or Hanno Dirksen
    Tom Prydie

    • woodster says:

      Agree Richard! I’d have been a lot more excited by a squad with some of those players in it. The fact that Peel has been ignored for most of Gatland’s tenure beggars belief. He may not be the quality of Mike Phillips, but even now he’s a damn sight better than any of the other options we have available.

  6. Booker says:

    Agreed that this squad indicates a lack of intent and ambition by Gatland who is inherently conservative and sticks with what he knows and is averse to making bold selection decisions. He also has his favourites e.g. Priestland and Lydiate who can do no wrong even when they do. I think Tipuric is probably the most creative player on the team but it took Howley as caretaker coach last year to really recognise this at last. Ditto, Dan Biggar. And its noticeable that Gatland hasn’t taken Howley’s selection on board but has simply reverted to his old favourites. If they don’t sort this out, Wales are going to be on the receiving end of a fair few tonkings – Ireland just being the start of them.

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