With the Rugby World Cup just around the corner, it seems like a good time to take a look at all of the contenders for the title. So let’s take a look at Wales and whether Warren Gatland can produce a miracle and make this team World Cup contenders out of nowhere.
Wales heading into this tournament
If you were to choose one word to describe Welsh rugby at the moment, it would be chaos. Over the last 18 months, the Welsh Rugby Union has become the most poorly run and unreliable Union in World Rugby.
I could spend all day on the issues that Welsh Rugby is having. A lack of money means the Welsh Rugby union almost did not have a team towards the end of the Six Nations earlier this year. While it looks like this team won’t have to worry about getting paid, there are still a huge amount of issues in Welsh Rugby at the moment.
Back in December last year, it looked like this tournament could be a brilliant one for Wales. They had taken the brave move to bring back Warren Gatland as the team’s head coach, three years after he had led them to the Rugby World Cup semi-final in Japan.
With a lot of that previous team still in place, it seemed like Wales would have a very interesting squad for this tournament. But the cracks have started to show in this team and Wales will be without experienced veterans like Alun Wyn Jones, Rhys Webb and Justin Tipuric.
All three of those player’s chose to retire instead of playing in this tournament. It is not just with the international team that Wales are losing players. Guys like Dillon Lewis, Liam Williams, Will Rowlands, Tomas Francis, Joe Hawkins and Rhys Patchell will not be playing their rugby in Wales after this tournament.
These issues have certainly been creeping onto the pitch, with Wales having poor results over the last couple of years. While they do have wins over South Africa, Argentina and Scotland over the last 18 months, Wales also have some embarrassing losses in that time.
Losses to Italy and Georgia in that time show how Wales have struggled in the last few years, with the loss to Georgia being a particular low point for Welsh rugby. They were incredibly close to finishing last in the Six Nations earlier this year and 30 point losses to Scotland and New Zealand in that time are not a good sign for this tournament.
Warren Gatland’s appointment has brought mixed results so far, although losing all four of their Six Nations games by more than a try show the gap in quality between Wales and the rest of the sides in this competition.
Wales xv for the tournament
Wales might have the most difficult team to pick out of any that we have done a preview for. There has been so much chaos and change throughout the entirety of this Welsh side that this might be one of the predicted team’s which ends up being very wrong by the time the tournament starts.
The front row is a complete mess at the moment, with captain Ken Owens out of the tournament and Wales making some strange choices when it comes to selection. There are also player’s like Dewi Lakes, Dillon Lewis, Gareth Thomas and Henry Thomas who could break into this front row.
The second row was supposed to be the easiest positions to pick on this team, but with Alun Wyn Jones pulling out of the tournament, it is hard to pick whether it will be Will Rowlands or Dafydd Jenkins partnering Adam Beard.
Their flankers will likely be two of the most exciting players in this team, with Christ Tshiunza being one of the young standouts of this Welsh side. Taulupe Faletau will need a big tournament if Wales are to have any success at all.
Rhys Webb had played brilliantly in the Six Nations, so Tomos Williams will have big shoes to fill. Dan Biggar is undoubtedly the starter for this side at 10. It is difficult to tell whether Gatland will want to put all of his faith into the youth in this back group, or whether he will go with the experience that he knows.
Joe Hawkins would have been one of the starters for this team but he is now ineligible for selection having signed for Exeter Chiefs for next season. The youngster leaves a hole at 12 which may be filled by exciting prospects like Joe Roberts, Mason Grady or Max Llewellyn. As long as he is healthy George North will continue his progression to 13 at this tournament.
There are four excellent options on the wing for Warren Gatland. While Louis Rees-Zammitt seems the most exciting of those options, Gatland has not always kept his faith in the 22 year old. He could go with an all-experienced wing partnership of Josh Adams and Alex Cuthbert.
Fullback will certainly be an experienced player, with the two options being either Leigh Halfpenny or Liam Williams. Halfpenny has a long and successful history with Gatland so as long as he is healthy, there is a good chance that Gatland will go with the former Scarlets man.
6.Christ Tshiunza-Exeter Chiefs
7.Tommy Reffell-Leicester Tigers
Players to look out for in this squad?
While the focus on this group has been the experienced player’s who are pulling out of the squad, there is an exciting group of young players coming through. Christ Tshiunza and Dafydd Jenkins could play a big part in this tournament despite being two of the younger players in the squad.
The backs have a similarly exciting group of youngsters, who should hopefully get the chance to prove themselves at this tournament. With all of the changes and chaos in this squad, Dan Biggar will play a massive part in this team. His experience and quality needs to shine through and Biggar needs to be the perfect facilitator for this young group of backs.
Similarly in the forwards, Wales do not have a line breaking forward like Taulupe Faletau. So the Welsh centurion will need to have a big tournament for Wales, particularly in attack. He is one of the few player’s in this squad that seems to be an easy pick to start for Warren Gatland.
If he does go with the youth, Louis Rees-Zammitt and Rio Dyer could have brilliant tournaments. Both of those players have shown that their quality still shines against world class opposition.
Wales path to winning the tournament
The focus on Welsh rugby is certainly not on winning the Rugby World Cup at the moment, but they are one of the teams to have benefitted from the draw for the tournament happening three years ago.
While Eddie Jones Australia will be a difficult test, Wales just need to beat Fiji and Georgia to make it to the quarter-final stage of the tournament. You would expect that to be a breeze for most Welsh sides, but this could prove to be a little bit more difficult than expected.
If Wales do get through the group, it seems likely to be another winnable game in the quarter-finals. Japan, Argentina or Samoa are the most likely teams to be waiting for Warren Gatland’s side if they can get through the group stage. So another trip to the semi-finals is not a million miles away for this Welsh side.
When you get to the semi-final stage of the Rugby World Cup, anything can happen. It is an extreme longshot, but who knows what kind of Welsh team are going to make it to the World Cup with Warren Gatland as their head coach.
What are Wales chances of winning the Rugby World Cup?
To put it pretty bluntly, Wales have almost no chance of winning the Rugby World Cup. This team is such a mess at the moment that it would be even more than a miracle if Wales were to even make it to their first Rugby World Cup final.
The one thing which Welsh fans can rely on is that Warren Gatland always seems to get the best out of Wales at the Rugby World Cup. They managed to reach the semi-finals in both 2011 and again in 2019. Wales don’t have to beat any of the top five teams in the world to reach that semi-final stage once again.
But considering their recent results, just beating Georgia and Fiji would be a big positive for Wales. There is no chance that Wales can actually win this tournament, even if some of their stars can play at the very highest level.
But I think that Warren Gatland can at least use this tournament to introduce some of the young stars of this Welsh side who could be the foundation of this team for the next decade.
Prediction of Australia’s tournament: Quarter-Final exit