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Wales' verdict on a rookie midfield consisting of two 20-year-olds

By PA
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Wales’ fledgling midfield combination of Mason Grady and Joe Hawkins has been given a ringing endorsement as the Guinness Six Nations nears its conclusion. The 20-year-old centres – Grady is 10 weeks older than his partner – have put down World Cup selection markers through encouraging displays during a Six Nations campaign that has often seen Wales struggle for highlights.

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Defeats against Ireland, Scotland and England were at least followed by a morale-boosting away victory over Italy. While life is not about to get any easier – an appointment with free-scoring France in Paris on Saturday is next for Wales – Grady and Hawkins are flourishing.

Wales head coach Warren Gatland names his line-up on Thursday to face Les Bleus, with both players in the frame to start a third successive game together, although Gatland will also undoubtedly consider the midfield merits of Nick Tompkins and George North.

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Wales’ selected centres are set to feature opposite the revered French midfield pair of Gael Fickou and Jonathan Danty after they caused England immeasurable grief in Les Bleus’ 53-10 triumph at Twickenham last weekend. “They [Grady and Hawkins] have been brilliant,” Wales assistant coach and attack specialist Alex King said.

“It is not easy, international rugby, and for two 20-year-olds to go in against England and then Italy, they have learned a huge amount already. They are going to form the nucleus of a midfield for Wales going forward.

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“Fickou and Danty are probably the best combination in the world at the moment. Both sides of the ball they are physical, skilful, fast and powerful. If you are a young player playing against them, it is great to be able to put a marker down to see where you are against world-class opposition.”

For King, Saturday’s encounter at Stade de France will be a case of friends reunited. France team manager Raphael Ibanez is a former Wasps teammate of King’s, while Les Bleus’ defence guru Shaun Edwards coached at Wasps when King was the fly-half.

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“Obviously, Shaun is their defence coach, Raphael Ibanez I played with at Wasps, and Fabien Galthie (head coach) is one of the great thinkers in French rugby,” King added. “It is all sort of coming to the boil at the right time, with a home World Cup just around the corner and probably the greatest French performance ever at Twickenham on Saturday.

“I played under Shaun when I was at Wasps. He is a great man, Shaun, he is very special to me in my life and my rugby career. It is funny how life pans out – I am (Wales’) attack coach against his defence. We will see what happens on Saturday. Since the last World Cup, France have basically given time to the young generation of players.

“The U20s have been very successful at Junior World Cups over the last four or five years. Those players have come through now and they are reaping the benefits. A lot of that team is in the mid-20s in terms of age and they have got 30-40 caps. We understand the challenge ahead, but he boys are going to rip into it, I really do.”

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J
Jon 39 minutes ago
Buoyant England travel to New Zealand full of hope but are they walking into an All Blacks ambush?

> New head coach Scott Robertson has kept only forwards coach Jason Ryan and conditioning coach Nic Gill from the previous regime *and so there is little institutional knowledge inherent in the new team.* Shows you what the English know about sport. Isn’t just fantastic that the best rugby team, or brand, on the planet has three brothers playing together? One a bull, the other a dancer, and last a .. boxer? Looks like a boxer bless him. > But Robertson has been working to fix that issue, with senior players and coaches having been regularly meeting to work out how they will operate together both on and off the field to ensure there is strong decision-making and a deep understanding of how the team wants to play. Have they? I would suggest then it is not a case of fixing things, that is not what Razor does. Razor will evolve the relationship between player and coach into a more symbiotic relationship. This wont be a coach that shouts down at his players theyre not doing good enough. I can imagine one of the first key areas he will be implementing is the respective leadership for each coaching group. Tight five, Loosies, Halves, Centers, and Back Three, will each have their own leadership team and an agile approach to the playing group relaying what they believe is happening on the training paddock, and in games. It will be a very big step to get everyone involved, able, and thinking about contributing to that process, but I believe a very beneficial one if successful. > England may have their best chance to win in 21 years, but they may also be walking into an ambush – *about to be hit* by a young, gifted, supremely physical and athletic All Blacks team coached by a man who has made every post a winner so far in his career and has this uncanny knack of getting the best out of people. Or, by a group hurting from not getting over the line and proving to everyone they are the best in the world, full of experience and cohesion, grit and motivation. You only need to look at someone like Patrick Tuipulotu to see someone with a fire under his belly from missing out on the last RWC due to injury, and having lost to this opposition in the previous one. It will be very interesting to see how this ‘Razor’ plays it. Does he stick with the traditional and protect the time honored All Black values of commitment, or does he evolve and pick the best players to win the Rugby Championship - and by association this test series - like Akira Ioane?

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