3 hot takes as Warren Gatland names Wales team to play Ireland
Look away now, Wayne Pivac. It was January 17, the day when Warren Gatland named his 37-strong Wales Guinness Six Nations squad, when the Kiwi took a sideswipe at his fellow New Zealander. Too many players over the age of 30 was the issue Gatland took umbrage with, claiming some should have perhaps been moved on earlier with a view to better developing a more youthful squad for the 2023 Rugby World Cup
Yet, 14 days later, there we were looking at a ‘Dads army’ style teamsheet after Gatland named a Wales side on Tuesday to tackle Ireland that contained seven 30-somethings in the starting XV and another four on the bench – two of whom were last capped in 2017.
That doesn’t exactly suggest a bright new, fresh-faced era under Gatland. Then again, as much as Wales versus England was always annually hyped up to be the big one in their Six Nations calendar, beating Ireland has always been the priority for the Kiwi who has never forgotten his 2001 IRFU sacking.
With the title favourites first up in Cardiff, it would have been revolutionary if Gatland had ripped up the nucleus of what he inherited from Pivac. Hence the presence of so many old reliables – a 37-year-old in Alun-Wyn Jones, a 36-year-old in new skipper Ken Owens, three 34-year-olds, a 33-year-old in Dan Biggar, two 32-year-olds and three 30-year-olds – in a matchday squad the coach claims to have been written off for the championship.
Not that there is anything wrong with golden oldies. Look at how Leicester snapped up the services of the 37-year-old Mike Brown on Tuesday through to the end of this season in England. It’s just it was a bit rich of Gatland to criticise his predecessor as the Wales coach for not sufficiently overhauling the squad when he hasn’t done much himself in recent weeks to do anything different from the ‘rely on experience’ Pivac approach.
The luxury back row
One thing Wales have never been short of is quality back-rowers and their latest selection highlights exactly that with Tommy Reffell left on the bench behind the starting trio of Jac Morgan, Justin Tipuric and Taulupe Faletau. Reffell has been to the fore in this season’s Premiership with Leicester, his calling card being the 17 turnovers won so far in the English league, and he had been the player in possession of the Test shirt coming into the Autumn Nations Series.
A rib injury did for Reffell, though, in November after he had started versus the All Blacks and Morgan has since taken his opportunity, scoring four tries in his starts versus Georgia and Australia.
Scoring regularly is no mean feat at Test level and having also dramatically come up with the decisive converted Champions Cup try for the Ospreys at Reffell’s Leicester just the other week, the wind is very much in Morgan’s sails. Reffell, however, should be one heck of a replacement to throw into the second-half fray versus Ireland.
It’s now Monsieur Biggar
It will be interesting to see how Dan Biggar adapts to life with Wales under Gatland. He had been chosen as Pivac’s skipper for the 2022 Six Nations and the subsequent tour of South Africa, but circumstances are now very different for the out-half.
He swapped Northampton for Toulon ahead of an Autumn Nations Series he missed through injury and having played seven times for his new club, clocking up 467 minutes either side of Christmas, he has now been restored to the Wales No10 jersey with much expected of him with Gareth Anscombe again out injured.
Set to go up against his old rival Johnny Sexton on Saturday, we will soon know what wintering in the south of France has done for Biggar’s game. Meanwhile, the identity of his backup has very much piqued the interest as well as it was 2017 when Owen Williams won his last Test cap, a gap he shares with fellow replacement Scott Baldwin.
Williams has been an inspired recruit by the Ospreys after the Worcester collapse, but can he now elevate that form to the international stage?
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Well said James.Go to comments
Gary Graham to Carcassone from Newcastle????Go to comments