RugbyWales in focus

Six Nations: Reviving Wales is Warren Gatland’s greatest challenge yet

Three wins out of 12 Tests a disastrous 2022 return under Wayne Pivac

Last Year

The year wasn’t without its highs as Wales beat Scotland and pushed both England and France close in the Six Nations before recording a first ever win away to South Africa in the second Test during the summer. They also led the Springboks 18-3 at half-time in the first Test before losing to an 82nd minute penalty by Damian Willemse as four yellow cards took their toll.

Wayne Pivac was saddled with an additional Test outside the autumn window against the All Blacks and fought back to a 29-23 deficit before three All Blacks tries in the last 15 minutes. This pattern was repeated when Australia recovered from a 39-13 deficit to beat a Welsh side which incurred another two late yellow cards.

Ultimately, though, three wins out of 12 and home defeats by Italy, thanks to Ange Capuozzo setting up Edoardo Padovani for the try of the year with the last play, as well as Georgia, left Pivac on thin ice, all the more so after using 81 players in his 35 games in charge, with 14 wins, one draw, 20 defeats and an equally changeable game plan.

Results: (6N) L (a) v Ireland 7-29. W v Scotland (h) 20-17. L v England (a) 19-23. L v Francs (h) 9-13. L v Italy (h) 21-22. (Summer tour) L v South Africa (a) 29-32. W v South Africa (a) 13-13. L v South Africa (a) 14-30. (Autumn) L v New Zealand (h) 23-55. W v Argentina (h) 20-13. L v Georgia (h) 12-13. L v Australia 34-29.



Injuries have ruled Ryan Elias, Elliot Dee, Samson Lee, Thomas Young, Dan Lydiate, Gareth Anscombe and Willis Halaholo out of the tournament, and most likely Josh Navidi. Promising hooker Dewi Lake has also been withdrawn, while Louis Rees-Zammit will miss the games against Ireland and Scotland.

Against that, the return of Wyn Jones, Dillon Lewis and Leon Brown from injury have eased the prop problems, while George North and Liam Williams are also fit again.

Warren Gatland has called upon many of the familiar old guard; Alun Wyn Jones (37), Justin Tipuric (33), Taulupe Faletau (32), Dan Biggar (33), Liam Williams (31), Alex Cuthbert (32) and Leigh Halfpenny (34), with favourite son Ken Owens (36) reinstated as captain, and Rhys Webb (34) also restored.

There are also four uncapped players, including the 6′ 6″, 18 stone Warren Gatland prototype Rhys Davies, Ospreys centre Kieran Williams and the Cardiff centre-cum-winger Mason Grady of Irish extraction; all of which leaves Gatland with some interesting selection posers.

Forwards (21)

Hookers: Scott Baldwin (Ospreys), Ken Owens (Scarlets, capt), Bradley Roberts (Dragon).

Props: Rhys Carre (Cardiff), Wyn Jones (Scarlets), Gareth Thomas (Ospreys), Leon Brown (Dragons), Tomas Francis (Ospreys), Dillon Lewis (Cardiff).

Locks: Adam Beard (Ospreys), Rhys Davies (Ospreys), Dafydd Jenkins (Exeter Chiefs), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys), Teddy Williams (Cardiff).

Backrowers: Taulupe Faletau (Cardiff), Jac Morgan (Ospreys), Tommy Reffell (Leicester Tigers), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys), Christ Tshiunza (Exeter Chiefs), Aaron Wainwright (Dragons).

Backs (17)

Scrumhalves: Kieran Hardy (Scarlets), Rhys Webb (Ospreys), Tomos Williams (Cardiff).

Outhalves: Dan Biggar (Toulon), Rhys Patchell (Scarlets), Owen Williams (Ospreys).

Centres: Mason Grady (Cardiff), Joe Hawkins (Ospreys), George North (Ospreys), Nick Tompkins (Saracens), Keiran Williams (Ospreys).

Outside backs: Josh Adams (Cardiff), Alex Cuthbert (Ospreys), Rio Dyer (Dragons), Leigh Halfpenny (Scarlets), Louis Rees-Zammit (Gloucester), Liam Williams (Cardiff).

Coach - Warren Gatland

In his first ‘spell’ (does 12 years constitute a spell?) of over 124 Tests, despite their regions rarely punching heavy, Wales won three Grand Slams and came within a score of two World Cup finals (2011 and 2019) and a semi-final (2015) after knocking out England on home soil.

After Wales’ not unexpected downturn, they have turned again to the former Connacht, Ireland, Wasps and Waikato and three-time Lions head coach in their time of need.

Key player - Dan Biggar

Wales’ only Top 14-based player after his move from Northampton to Toulon, uber competitive strategist and goalkicker, brilliant in the air, and an intelligent, thoughtful presence. Gareth Anscombe’s absence heightens Biggar’s importance. That said, Taulupe Faletau will be their beating heart up front and Tomos Williams is so talented that you suspect he’s due a big Six Nations sooner rather than later.


Even by Welsh standards, the backdrop to this campaign is extraordinary. The WRU was this week branded “institutionally misogynistic” amid sexism claims about the organisation on a distressing BBC probe into the “toxic culture” at the union with Steve Phillips resigning as chief executive officer over the weekend.

Meanwhile, Gatland has little time to bring together a brand new coaching ticket. If anybody can circle the Welsh wagons it is Gatland, and they’re liable to improve as the tournament progresses. But it’s doubtful if he’s ever taken on a bigger challenge, at least since his Galwegians and Connacht days.


Sat Feb 4th: v Ireland (h) 2.15pm.

Sat Feb 11th: v Scotland (a) 4.45pm.

Sat Feb 25th: v England (h) 4.45pm.

Sat March 11th: v Italy (a) 2.15pm.

Sat March 18th: v France (a) 4.45pm.


To win Six Nations: 12/1 (fourth favourites).

To win Grand Slam: 25/1.

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times