Wales announced their 35 man squad for the RBS 6 Nations yesterday, and whilst there are big names missing through injury, there sees good strength in depth in their front row options as well as in Wales’ back three.
With a fully fit set of props to choose from, Adam Jones at tight head being the most prominent and with Ken Owens, Matthew Rees and Richard Hibbard all vying for the no2 shirt, the first platform in Wales’ pack at least looks strong. It is in the second row options that worries start to arise. Bradley Davies and Luke Charteris are due to miss the whole of the tournament, with Alun Wyn Jones hoping to be fit for the second half. Ian Evans is the only experienced lock names in the squad, although the call ups of Dragons’ Coombss and Ospreys’ King are deserved in the hard work and good form they have shown so far this season.
The likes of Josh Turnbull, Ryan Jones and Aaron Shingler can all cover in the second row, but with fitness concerns over the latter two, depth is still an issue. In the backrow whilst there is obvious talent with captain Sam Warburton, Justin Tipuric and Toby Faletau there is again a lack of depth. The Blues’ Josh Navidi and Andries Pretorius have been drafted it, yet being new to the squad it remains to be seen how much game time they will get. Wales will undoubtedly be able to field one of the more mobile back 5’s in the tournament, but it will be a big test to see if they can provide the strength and support for their strong front row players to avoid being beaten in the scrums.
In the backs, the back three positions are fully loaded with talent with George North, Alex Cuthbert, Leigh Halfpenny, Liam Williams, the re-called Lee Byrne and newly included Eli Walker to call upon. Walker may not get much opportunity to play yet his inclusion for experience alone is fully deserved. His guile, style and talent in his displays for the Ospreys have been a delight to watch this season, although it will take some doing to displace North and Cuthbert from their starting shirts.
At centre, the issue of depth raises its head again. Jon Davies, Scott Williams and Jamie Roberts are the only true recognised centres named, with James Hook likely being named as the fly half cover. With Scott Williams suffering a shoulder injury over the weekend, the coaching staff will be hoping he can recover from it quickly.
Scrum half is a relatively strong position in the squad, with Mike Phillips again looking to be favourite for the starting spot. It is at fly half, just as with the second row options, that Wales look likely to struggle the most.
Dan Biggar and James Hook are the only recognised no 10’s named in the squad, and with Hook still a doubt for full fitness by the time the tournament starts, it is a big concern there is only one fully fit fly half in the squad.
Dan Biggar, despite a slight wobble with the boot against Leicester on the weekend, has been the form Welsh ten this season. Arguments could have been made to see the return of Stephen Jones, if only for cover and squad experience, yet the Welsh management have taken the gamble on naming just these two.
Overall the Welsh squad includes many key players, who are looking to be in better form than they were in before the Autumn Internationals, yet the injuries to so many talented and key players in their pack could hinder them. There is also the issue of depth in numerous positions throughout the squad, and with so many players due to return either just before, or during , the tournament, it is a gamble to have chosen them with no idea as to what form they will be in when they return.
This Wales squad is packed with talented individuals, who if they can gel as a unit can cause every side in the 6 Nations problems. The concern remains however that if their pack can’t get them parity and if more injuries strike, then it could make an already difficult tournament even harder for the reigning Grand Slam champions.
Forwards: Scott Andrews (Blues), Craig Mitchell (Exeter Chiefs), Adam Jones (Ospreys) Paul James (Bath), Gethin Jenkins (Toulon), Ryan Bevington (Ospreys), Richard Hibbard (Ospreys), Ken Owens (Scarlets), Matthew Rees (Scarlets), Ryan Jones (Ospreys) Lou Reed (Blues), Ian Evans (Ospreys), James King (Ospreys), Andrew Coombs (Dragons), Josh Turnbull (Scarlets), Josh Navidi (Blues), Aaron Shingler (Scarlets), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys), Sam Warburton (Blues), Toby Faletau (Dragons), Andries Pretorius (Blues)
Backs: Tavis Knoyle (Scarlets), Mike Phillips (Bayonne), Lloyd Williams (Blues), Dan Biggar (Ospreys), James Hook (Perpignan), Jonathan Davies (Scarlets), Jamie Roberts (Blues), Scott Williams (Scarlets) Alex Cuthbert (Blues), George North (Scarlets), Eli Walker (Ospreys), Leigh Halfpenny (Blues), Liam Williams (Scarlets), Lee Byrne (Clermont).