SPORTS TIME: Wales’s World Cup


Wales are going into the world cup with two wins out of three. Safe to say, this is a good result. It gives the team decent momentum before they head down south to face the physicality of South Africa, Samoa and Fiji. But what exactly can we take out of these warm ups? Where does Wales still need to improve? And what are they’re chances of success in New Zealand?

POSITIVES:

1) Some of Wales’s young players have really excelled over the last three weeks. The likes of North, Warburton are always improving and are showing that the 7 and 14 shirts are well and truly theirs. Also Preistland, Knoyle and Scott Williams have been particularly impressive. All of which have done a great job at breaking into the team and have really put their case forward to be part of the starting 15.

2) During their Poland camp, Wales have obviously been working on their fitness. This has really shown, particularly in the first two games against England. In the first game they were able to produce an impressive come back and in the second game their fitness was great.

DRAWBACKS/WEAKNESSES:

1) The set piece has been a horror show. the scrum was a big problem against England, however it did look stronger when Adam Jones returned against Argentina. Adam proved he’s one of the few players that Wales simply can’t replace. If there’s an injury to the ‘hair bear’ then Wales’s scrum is seriously going to struggle. The lineout almost needs no mention. It has been an obvious area of concern, for whatever reason. The coaching staff will have to take the next few weeks to sort out the problem because without a working lineout, South Africa particularly will be ruthless.

2) Injuries have caused Wales some problems. They will be without Gethin Jenkins, Matthew Rees, Gavin Henson and Morgan Stoddart for the duration of the tournament. With injury worries for Steven Jones and Ryan Jones. The plus side of this is that it has given others a chance to shine reflecting a strength in depth that Wales have lacked for sometime.

3) Finally we have to question whether Wales will go into the tournament with the mental toughness needed to really challenge the best teams in the world. It has been a problem over the last two years that Wales have lacked a clinical edge that has allowed them to finish off teams when they are on top. Consistency has also been a problem. Wales have been notorious for finishing well after a quiet 60 or 70 minutes or for only being able to sustain a high level of rugby for a limit part of the game. The way the held out against England in the second match suggests that some of these problems have been addressed, however, the Argentina game highlighted some persistent problems of consistency. At the end of the day, however, these were warm up matches. You have to expect Wales to play at an even higher level come September, which i fully expect them to do.

WALES’ WORLD CUP CHANCES

So far I have been reluctant to predict how well Wales will do in the World Cup. I am, however, ready to bite the bullet. I think their performance will hinge on the first game against South Africa. If they can win that and top their group then I can see them building up momentum that could take them all the way. I realise that to beat South Africa is a very big ask, but recent results and Wales’ current form tell us that it’s definitely a realistic goal.

I’m going to take this opportunity to wish Wales all the best. It’s a very young and exciting team who have the potential to reach outstanding heights. I for one cannot wait to see them in action on the world stage.

Sport time: First Weekend of the Six Nations


Chris Ashton celebrates his first try

The first weekend of the Six Nations is over and it certainly hasn’t disappointed. Two fast paced games, and one absolute nail bitter made for good viewing, and boy did the fans make some noise in the stadiums.

England vs Wales was a fantastic opener. The result was an English win, the first in eight years at the Millennium Stadium. It was a closely fought battle, England edging it at 26-19, however, England always looked like the better team. They dominated a Welsh scrum which was left limp without two of their Lions stars, Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones. England also came out on top in the backs with some very convincing performances from Toby Flood and Chris Ashton. Flood was instrumental in Ashton’s first try and, was very successful at bringing the big men around him into the game. He was deservedly named man of the match, and cemented his place at fly-half over Jonny Wilkinson. Wales showed some signs of what they could do; it never really felt like they were out of the game. Unfortunately, they failed to finish off the chances they created, which has been a massive problem for Wales for some time.

Italy put in a brave performance against a weakened Irish side, but once again failed at the final hurdle to get the victory, losing as they did 13-11. With a strong forward effort they managed to stay in the game right up to the end. They scored a try about four minutes from the end of the game giving them the lead, however, missing the conversion hurt them dearly. It meant that Ireland only needed a drop-goal or penalty to win. It was the experienced Ronan O’Gara who slotted over the last three points they needed and allowed Ireland to snatch victory away from the Italians.

Richie Gray powering through the French defence.

Defending Grand-Slam champions, France showed their class by brushing off a very strong looking Scottish side. After a quick opening try Scotland were left trailing for the rest of the match, which ended at 34-21. The French team looked very dangerous in attack, but showed some holes in defence that Scotland was able to capitalise on. Honourable mention, however, goes to Richie Gray, the young Scottish second row who was very impressive in both attack and defence.

Until next time,

Paul

Coming up: Paul will be posting some  pre-match thoughts later in the week

Sport time: Welsh team for Six Nations


Here’s the very first guest article from Paul. It’s suitable for keen rugby fans, but don’t worry, a simplistic guide to the Six Nations rugby tournament will be coming this week- right in time for kick off.

The Six Nations is only four days away and the world cup is looming. All the home nations (plus France and Italy) are gearing up to get their campaigns off to a winning start and it’s their last chance to test players before jetting off to New Zealand in the Summer.

Wales are currently in a slump, and after the draw with Fiji, some serious questions are being asked about players and coaches. It’s crucial for Wales to start off with a win. They’re a team that thrives on momentum, beating England on the 5th February (Wales’ first Six Nations game) will give them bags of it.

The squad for this game were picked on Saturday by Warren Gatland (Wales’ coach), and there are a few surprises. Namely the exclusion of Martyn Williams and Dan Bigger (Wiki them). While I’m glad Bigger isn’t there, I do feel some reservations about Martyn Williams. He would not start because Sam Warburton is playing better, is faster and stronger; but he has such a wealth of experience that would be extremely useful to have around the squad. I suppose, however, it should be taken as a sign of strength that we can afford to not include such a player of his calibre.

Onto the starting fifteen- I feel that because we’re missing the likes of Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones (both out because of injuries), it is especially important that our backs are sharp and scoring tries; something that they’ve been struggling to do recently. To remedy this I propose we start James Hook at 10. It’s a risk because he hasn’t played much there recently but the Hook/Steven Jones rotation we had during the 2008 six nations proved really effective. Also, with the return to fitness of Shane Williams and Leigh Halfpenny ,we’ve got two of our top finishers back on the wings. I’d keep Lee Byrne at fullback, due to a lack of options mainly. In my opinion he’s still a better option than Rhys Priestland (even though I support Scarlets), who will benefit massively from some time in the Welsh squad. Hopefully Byrne will recover some of the form that made him one of the best in the world 2 years ago. Centres pick themselves, Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies. Both are really big strong runners and are top players for their regions. Scrum half is a bit more difficult. Mike Philips hasn’t really performed recently, but would Dwayne Peel be a better option? I’m not so sure. I think I’ll leave that one up to Warren Gatland.

As for the forwards Sam Warburton and Dan Lydiate are surely the best bet for flankers and, Matthew Rees will captain from hookers, and Alyn Wyn Jones should accompany Bradley Davies in the second row. Number Eight could go either way between Andy Powell, Ryan Jones and Jonathan Thomas. I hear Powell is playing out of his skin at Wasps, but I think I’d keep him on the bench and bring him on in the final 20. I’d also put Thomas on the Bench, like Jones, he covers 4, 6 and 8, and would be a good option if somebody isn’t firing. That leaves Ryan Jones to start. He’s been playing well the last month and probably deserves to prove himself after a run of bad form. Last but not least, the props.  As I mentioned, we’re in a bit of a crisis since we’re missing both Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones are injured. They’ve both been the core of Wales’ team for a few seasons now and will not be easily replaced. Paul James will probably take over at lose head (left side of the scrum) while I’d expect Craig Mitchell to start at Tight head (right side) with John Yapp on the bench. It won’t be the strongest front row, not by a long shot but hopefully it’ll do the job.

If you fancy building your own team go to http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/rugby_union/welsh/squad_selector/default.stm

It’s available for England, Scotland and Ireland as well so knock yourselves out.

Wales will play England in the Six Nations on Friday 5th Febraury in the Millenium Stadium (Cardiff). Coverage will be shown on BBC one from 7.30pm.

Good Luck Wales!

Until next time, Paul

If this all sounded like gibberish to you, don’t worry, Paul will be writing a post for new supporters of rugby before the Six Nations starts.