With the groups for the 2015 Rugby World Cup being announced yesterday, despite the fact they are being picked ludicrously early (indeed before it even being known exactly who all the teams will be), Wales’ current dip in form threw up a delightfully tantalising group.
Pool A will consist of hosts England, Australia, Wales and the well known Oceania 1 and Play off winners.
Australia may well be cursing themselves for their last minute try that saw Wales knocked down into the third tier of rugby. The phrase ‘Group of Death’ is often bandied about, but in this case, it’s legitimately used.
Wales you would feel will be the happier of the big three. In recent years they have shown their ability to beat England away from home. Of the top three southern hemisphere sides, Australia are the one they always get closest to, and have the best chance of beating. The only thing that could pose a problem for Wales is how the fixtures fall in the tournament, as if it follows 2011 form, as a tier 3 side, they will not get a favourable draw.
Two and a half years is a long time to wait for the next rugby world cup, and a lot can change, not least where Wales are currently seeded.
Their performance against Australia, despite the agonizing end, was such a vast improvement on what they had displayed before that whilst not brilliant, it certainly gave hope for these group of players going into future games. Not hope, however, for the Six Nations. It took the return of Gatland for the team to display any semblance of good play and looking at it, it is not down to the form and talent of the players (which is good), but more so how they mentally approach games. Rob Howley simply does not have the authority or the ability to be head coach. It is not his fault that he has been picked to do so, yet the summer tour and the first two tests of this Autumn series show that Wales are going backwards with him at the helm. There is a good chance the Six Nations won’t be an enjoyable one for Wales.
Of course the return of key players in Adam Jones and Dan Lydiate should give them a boost, but the fact remains that Wales will be scuppered by the fact that their own Union has let their head coach take a sabbatical. And so far it has been very much to the detriment of the national side.
Serious questions must be asked as to how the deal was able to be negotiated in the first place. Or are they simply taking the view that a sacrificing of one Six Nations tournament is worth keeping Gatland in the long term?
If so that is a big gamble to take, and Welsh rugby could end up paying a heavy price.
Attendances were down, and in some instances dramatically, for the Autumn Internationals. Indeed the regions and clubs throughout Wales had to resort to a buy one get one free offer on international tickets in an effort to shift them – something that has been completely unheard of in recent years.
Welsh rugby is finely balanced, in that the success of team Wales has bankrolled the rest of the game. With the loss of Gatland at the helm and with seven losses in a row already having an effect on attendance figures, the WRU will be praying for a swift turnaround in fortunes. If not, Welsh rugby will continue its slide downwards both financially and structurally, and ultimately the WRU will only have itself to blame.