Wales squad analysis ahead of 2019 Six Nations
The Wales team line up for the national anthems at the start of the Six Nations international rugby union match between Wales and France at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff, south Wales, on March 17, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / CHRISTOPHE SIMON / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. Use in books subject to Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) approval. (Photo credit should read CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP/Getty Images)

Warren Gatland has named his 39 man squad to compete in the 2019 Six Nations and, whilst his Wales squad sprung no real shocks in terms of who is included, there was certainly a lot of talking points surrounding the selections.

Round One of the 2019 championship begins on Friday February 1, with France hosting Wales. In preparation, the Wales squad announcement brings into focus all team’s hopes of challenging Ireland for the 2019 title.

Robert Rees gives you your Wales squad analysis, heading into next month’s campaign.

Wales squad ‘Stacked’ at Tighthead

Eagle eyed viewers will have noticed Warren Gatland has chosen four tightheads in his squad instead of the usual three. Perhaps this is due to him wanting to choose Leon Brown, but not having him fully fit would be risky if you only had two other tightheads to cover.

Expect Gatland to make some experiments to start the Six Nations but, on the whole it’ll be a fairly familiar and predictable team [where injury dictates starting places]. Dillon Lewis will certainly be given game time aplenty with a look ahead and both Tomas Francis and Samson Lee will lead the charge.

The set piece is definitely going to be the first priority and Francis will certainly bring a solid platform for them to build from. His powerful scrummaging and excellent ball-carrying haven’t gone unnoticed at Exeter this season and, he’ll certainly give the French something to think about come game day one.

Young stars in tight five selection

The main feature of the Welsh pack is ‘versatility’ . The ability to seamlessly switch from one position to another is favoured in modern test rugby.

Thomas Young’s hard carrying, Justin Tipuric’s jackalling and Aaron Wainwright’s endless desire to track the ball all feats that’ll see Gatland favour them going forward. Josh Navidi had a great game against Glasgow in the Champions Cup pool stages and he’ll be the likely candidate to start at eight in Faletau’s absence.

Both Seb Davies and Cory Hill have played back row and Josh Turnbull can play at both lock and back row when needed too. Turnbull is one of seven Cardiff Blues players to be selected and it’s just rewards for his excellent set-piece work and dominating breakdown ability.

Turnbull’s superb season at the Blues and an ability to play both second and back row with ease should put him in good stead when it comes to matchday selections. He can strengthen any set piece, be a solid lineout target as well as putting in shifts both defensively and offensively.

Welsh fans will be excited to see young Dragons flanker Aaron Wainwright in the back row (we know Last Word on Rugby are) and he could well be the favourite to start on the blindside, come February 1st in Paris. His hard work in tracking back and dominant carrying style will allow Wales to remain strong in defence whilst having that gainline breaking, attacking style.

Notable absentees are Ollie Griffiths who hasn’t had a great deal of game time following a bout with injury and Ospreys’ Olly Cracknell.

No room for Owen Williams as four fly halves are chosen

Owen Williams hasn’t been included in the Wales squad despite his ability to cover both 10 and 12, albeit to the shock of pretty much no one. His form at inside-centre for Gloucester was scintillating prior to the injury to Danny Cipriani where he then moved to fly-half and hasn’t really performed since.

Just the three scrum-halves in Tomas Williams, Gareth Davies and Aled Davies but there has been four fly-halves picked by the coaching team. With Patchell looking doubtful ahead of week one and Dan Biggar picking up a slight knock playing for Saints just the other week it seems Gatland wants all angles covered and has brought in Jarrod Evans to marshal the troops alongside fellow Blues counterpart Gareth Anscombe.

Anscombe seems to favoured starter going by Gatland’s plans from the autumn internationals, so expect another expansive gameplan built around turnover and set-piece ball. The starting ten may well be altered weekly, with Wales wanting to see all their options; before heading into the Rugby World Cup later this year.

Wales had a heavy kicking game in the autumn and that’ll continue although the coaching staff will want it to be that tiny bit more accurate. Finding space will be key against some strong counterattacking sides.

If Wales kick poorly to the likes of a Stuart Hogg, Mike Brown and Rob Kearney, they’ll be punished for it.

Playing more off the fringes is also needed. Wales kept it tight and to great effect, but lacked the variety that they’ll need to get those wins against the top teams. Spreading the ball wide – with confidence – is something that all the fly-halves in the squad can do and if they want to retain the kicking game then Biggar will be the favoured starter.

Halfpenny included despite Concussion symptoms

Scarlets’ fullback Leigh Halfpenny has been included despite him battling concussion since receiving the knock against Australia in November. He is joined by an array of full-back talent with Jonah Holmes and Liam Williams the pick of the bunch and Gareth Anscombe holding the utility role.

Powerful runs off of deep ball will also be key to the Wales attack, with Liam Williams and Halfpenny well recognized as strong attackers off loose kicking – but fans might still question, has Halfpenny gotten over his concussion symptons? If he has, it will add much to the Wales squad depth and attacking flair.

10th November 2018, Principality Stadium, Cardiff, Wales; Rugby Union, Autumn International series, Wales versus Australia; Leigh Halfpenny of Wales puts the brakes on to look for an outlet (photo by Paul Jenkins/Action Plus via Getty Images)

Strong runners in the outside back trio include with the likes of North and Adams, who are the likely candidates to start in February. With Williams at fullback, all are proven finishers and will apply a strong defensive shift against an unorthodox French team.

‘Centres of control’ in Wales squad backline

Four strong centre options have been chosen by Gatland and his team. Jon Davies will lead the charge at outside centre but the race for the 12 jersey is still firmly on with Scott Williams the in form player of late.

Powerful runners who pick their lines, but also a group of midfield generals who control the defence and ensure it’s hard to break when the play is loose. Providing the distribution from inside them is quality ball they’ll be able to get some flowing attacks going.

The ability to run hard and straight will ensure there is plenty of space outside for the wingers to finish and so if Wales can get quick ball off the breakdown there’ll be plenty of opportunities to score tries.

What is plain to see from this Wales squad is, that old hands are still within the group but gladly, Gatland and Shaun Edwards will need players who can inspire. Mix in some youthful exuberance, and a favourable draw – that sees Wales face Ireland in [what could be] a championship determining final round encounter on March 16.

It is all in this years Wales squads hands. How they perform in the opening two rounds, will demonstrate if this group is a prospect for success later this year in Japan.

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2019 Guinness Six Nations schedule – Round One:

  • France v Wales – Friday February 1. Stade de France, Paris

  • Scotland v Italy – Saturday Feb 2. Murrayfield, Edinburugh

  • Ireland v England – Sat Feb 2. Aviva Stadium, Dublin

Catch all the build-up and action of the worlds most popular rugby championship.

 

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