Six Nations 2018: Wounded Wales set for a year of transition
A huge injury list means Warren Gatland will have to delve deep into playing pools
The 2018 Six Nations will be Rhys Webb’s last with the scrumhalf set to join Toulon. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty
You Bet: Winner 14/1, Grand Slam 50/1
Last Year: Fifth
With changes in world rugby necessitating a move away from the ‘Warrenball’ philosophy which once served them so well, and with a score of senior stars out injured, the 2018 tournament promises to be a transitional one for Wales. Warren Gatland is back at the helm after missing last year’s competition due to his commitments as head coach of the Lions, and he is likely to see this year’s Six Nations as an opportunity to blood talent, and build the foundations for a serious Championship assault in 2019.
The list of injuries Gatland is faced with reads like a who’s who of Welsh rugby. Talisman Sam Warburton, captain of the Lions as they secured a remarkable series draw in New Zealand last summer, is set to miss the whole campaign with a neck injury. So too is Jonathan Davies – another Lions star – who suffered a serious foot injury during the November defeat to Australia. Dan Lydiate and Jake Ball are also set to miss the duration. Another of the nation’s backrow heavyweights, Taulupe Faletau, is unlikely to feature until the back end of the tournament. Dan Biggar is set to miss the opening three fixtures, while the electric Liam Williams could miss the whole tournament with an abdominal problem. Just to add to Gatland’s woes, George North is out of the opening clash with Scotland after injuring his knee playing for Northampton, and there are also doubts over Hallam Amos.
It also looks like Rhys Webb's international career is over. Webb is set to sign for Toulon next season, ending his involvement with the national side, with the WRU now only selecting players with 60 caps or more. The Ospreys nine only has 31, and has been ruled out of this year's tournament with a knee injury.
With all these absentees it begs the question of who will actually be fit to pull on the red jersey on February 3rd. Luckily for Wales, they might be a tiny nation- but they’re one well stocked on rugby players. The beleaguered Welsh pack have been handed a boost by the return to fitness of prop Samson Lee, while Ross Moriarty – a star of last year’s Six Nations – has returned to action with club side Gloucester. There will be more responsibility than ever on the mammoth shoulders of Alun Wyn Jones, while Josh Navidi – a dynamic, long-haired nuisance – can help plug the gaping hole in the backrow.
And providing a patched-up pack can hold things together, there could be some old fashioned Welsh fireworks behind the scrum. Worcester's Josh Adams represents an exciting new talent for Gatland with the winger currently top of the Aviva Premiership try-scoring stakes.
The sheer weight of absentees suggest this is going to be a difficult campaign for Wales – especially when faced with trips to Twickenham and the Aviva - but they still have the players and the coach to beat anyone on their day. PM
The Coach: Warren Gatland will need all his coaching wiles to try and minimise an extensive injury list that includes several marquee names.
The Captain: Alun Wyn Jones is a world class secondrow whose ability is matched by his attitude and application. He’ll need to be at his best.
One to Watch: The uncapped James Davies is the brother of the injured Lions and Wales international Jonathan, and a superb openside flanker. His poach rate is very impressive. J O’S
Round one: Saturday February 3rd, Wales v Scotland
Round two: Saturday February 10th, England v Wales
Round three: Saturday February 24th, Ireland v Wales
Round four: Sunday March 11th, Wales v Italy
Round five: Saturday March 17th, Wales v France
Prediction: 3rd. They’re away to England and Ireland but have three home games and if they beat France in that last match it might see them climb to third.