Nigel Owens fears for Wales' 2023 World Cup hopes after Italy loss
Nigel Owens believes Wales will struggle to reach the knockout stages of next year’s World Cup based on the current form that culminated in last Saturday’s shock Guinness Six Nations loss to Italy. That 22-21 defeat left the Welsh finishing in fifth place in the championship and the ex-Test level referee fears what it means for them next year in a pool containing the likes of Australia, Fiji and Georgia.
“This is as low as Wales have been for a number of years,” said Owens to William Hill. “They have never lost to Italy in Cardiff before. They have had some low times in the past, which every team goes through, but losing at home to Italy is something that has never happened before. It’s pretty low.
“They have got to go to South Africa in the summer – hopefully, they will have a few players coming back from injury and a couple of other players might start the games. They really need to sort out who the best team is going to be and start getting some wins and getting confidence back going into the World Cup. There is no hiding the fact it was very disappointing at the weekend.
“They are going to have to improve on where they are now or they are not going to make the knockout stages of the World Cup, simple as that, based on current form. There has been a lot of changes, not sticking with the same team. But to be fair to Wayne Pivac, it’s understandable as some players aren’t on their best form, so you need to bring people in.
“They haven’t got a player that stands out in a few of the particular positions and are not on top of their game at the moment. They will need these players to get back into form. There is the summer tour to South Africa, which is going to be a massive ask, and the autumn internationals.
“You need those two windows to start getting some wins and knowing who your best team is going to be heading into next year’s Six Nations with some form. Otherwise, it will be a very tough ask going into the World Cup. Wales were poor against Italy, they really were. I wasn’t expecting that. I know they started the tournament very poor against Ireland, and they finished it even worse.
“But against Scotland, they played really well. They could and should have beaten England, another five minutes in that game and they would have. And if they scored that try, they would have beaten France in Cardiff. Wales did play really well in those games.
“I thought they were improving as the tournament was going on, but Saturday was a shock. They went backwards and I don’t know why. Nobody knows why. The players and coaches will be scratching their heads too. Whether they were too confident, thinking Italy were going to be a foregone conclusion? I don’t know.
“But Italy played well. As a Welshman, I was gutted Wales lost but I don’t begrudge Italy the win – the way they played, the try they scored. Wales were very disappointing but all credit to Italy, that is the best they’ve played for a long, long time,” concluded Owens.
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