With recent comments in the press from Ospreys’ forwards coach Jonathan Humphries, and the slight gloom still hanging over Welsh rugby after their disappointing Autumn Internationals display, is there any validity to the thinking that do we in Wales have our expectations too high?
Humphries was alluding solely to European Cup prospects in his comments yet his words hold a lot of truth. With regional budgets being below what other countries involved in the tournament have, it is that much harder for the Welsh sides to build up a competitive squad that is able to compete effectively. There is so little strength in depth in quality in the Welsh sides that even a small number of injuries can de-rail a season. Whilst this does not excuse some below par performances, it does give an idea as to what trials the Welsh sides face.
With the regions seemingly at a disadvantage domestically, this hasn’t always been carried over to the international stage. Indeed three Grand Slams in the last eight seasons for Wales looks like an excellent return in comparison to the other teams competing in the 6 Nations. What this doesn’t show however is that when Wales aren’t winning then they are usually struggling near the bottom of the table, yet there is the worry that the public at least in Wales can get carried away with expecting Wales to win without looking at the full picture in Welsh rugby.
It doesn’t take much to de-rail Wales’ momentum and results. Despite being hindered by a limited game plan and often poor form of Wales’ established players, it is often injury to even just a couple of players that really seems to put paid to their chances.
Wales are not in the position of say France and England where there is a depth in talent at the very highest level to call upon. Wales has an incredibly strong match day squad when all their players are fully fit, but in the unceasing rugby calendar, the chances of teams ever being able to field a fully fit squad now are few and far between.
Wales’ squad for the 6 Nations is at the moment missing one of its key players in Dan Lydiate. One of their other effective back row players Ryan Jones is struggling for full fitness. In the second row their only first choice lock in the squad, Ian Evans, is also struggling with recovering from injury.
Wales go into this tournament as defending Grand Slam champions. They also go into the tournament missing a large number of players that made last season’s campaign so successful.
Regardless of the talent within this Wales side, to win a 6 Nations title is difficult enough let alone trying to defend one. Wales are capable of winning all their matches but they are just as capable of losing a fair few of them too. Irrespective of the outcome what Wales fans will be wanting at the very least is an improved performance.
If Wales can show some inventiveness in their back play and re-discover their rock hard defence then injuries withstanding they will pose a serious threat for any side in the tournament. To expect Wales to win this tournament again might be bordering on dreaming, but to see an improvement in quality, commitment and hopefully results must be what every Welsh supporter is looking for.