Six Nations 2022: Champions Wales look to have their work cut out

Wayne Pivac has been deprived of more than 700 caps in experience due to an injury crisis

Wales

Last year: Champions (no Grand Slam)

Odds for the title: 10-1

The 2021 Six Nations, played out exclusively behind closed doors, didn't exactly live long in the memory. So it can be easily forgiven to forget that Wales, for all their injury problems during the Autumn, are heading into this year's tournament as defending champions.

Only an injury-time Brice Dulin try stopped Wales from winning the Grand Slam last year - they were beaten 32-30 in Paris - but they might struggle to go as close this time round.

Dan Biggar captains his side in the absence of some high-profile, experienced names - but even if the title eludes Wales, at least the Cardiff crowd can sing their hymns again.

The coach

Alun Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Taulupe Faletau, Leigh Halfpenny, Dan Lydiate, Josh Navidi, George North and Justin Tipuric. Wayne Pivac has had to announce his Six Nations squad without all eight - 726 Test match caps (Lions included) between them. As a result, the Welsh pack looks strangely lightweight, with three new caps included - Dewi Lake, Jac Morgan and James Ratti.

However Pivac still has plenty of experience in his halfbacks and midfield, as well as possessing some lethal, X-factor players out wide in Louis Rees-Zammit, Josh Adams and Liam Williams. Part of Pivac’s remit as Wales coach was to play a more expansive style - given the balance of his squad, it’s his best option.

The key man

Dan Biggar’s standing within this Wales squad has been emphasised by him receiving the captaincy in the absence of Alun Wyn Jones and Ken Owens. Basically, Pivac has entrusted him with the job of holding everything together and leading the Welsh challenge during a pretty freakish injury crisis.

Biggar’s selection at outhalf in all three Lions Tests last summer was a result of Warren Gatland’s conservative approach, but the 32-year-old provides unmatched stability at 10 which is what an inexperienced Wales side will require. His own experience - he could reach 100 Test caps during the Championship - should prove invaluable too.

The one to watch

Perhaps the breakout star of the pandemic, Louis Rees-Zammit made his Wales debut away to France in October 2020 and has quickly cemented his place as one of the most exciting young wingers in world rugby.

The 21-year-old scored four tries in last year’s Six Nations, including a stunning brace at Murrayfield. The second was later named the try of the Championship and his rapid rise earned him a place on the plane to South Africa, where he was criminally ignored by Lions coach Gatland during the Test series. It will be fascinating to see him kick on during the spring.

Fixtures

Saturday February 5th, Ireland v Wales, Aviva Stadium (2.25pm)

Saturday February 12th, Wales v Scotland, Millennium Stadium (2.15pm)

Saturday February 26th, England v Wales, Twickenham (4.45pm)

Friday March 11th, Wales v France, Millennium Stadium (8pm)

Saturday March 19th, Wales v Italy, Millennium Stadium (2.15pm)