Looking Back at 2022
A thoroughly underwhelming 2022 for Wales saw them finish fifth in last year’s Six Nations after a first-ever loss to Italy on home soil before following that up with defeat to Georgia, the Lelos’ first-ever win away to a Tier 1 nation. This resulted in the departure of Wayne Pivac and the return of head coach Warren Gatland after a three-year stint coaching the Chiefs in his native New Zealand.
Wales’ Six Nations form over the last few years could best be described as somewhat erratic; they’ve alternated between finishing first and fifth in each of their last four Championship campaigns, a run which was kickstarted by Gatland securing a Grand Slam in what many presumed would be his final Six Nations campaign.
If there’s one man who knows how to steady the Welsh ship, it’s Warren Gatland, who also took the reins of a Welsh side that had finished fifth in the 2007 Championship before guiding them to a Grand Slam in 2008. Could history repeat itself this year?
A new coach usually results in a shift of style, and there’s certainly a great contrast between Wayne Pivac and Warren Gatland’s respective brands of rugby. Under Pivac, Wales kept the ball tight to the previous ruck from just 10.6% of their phases in Test rugby in 2022, the lowest rate of any Six Nations side. However, they also moved the ball wide just 7.6% of the time, the second lowest rate of any Six Nations side last year (France, 5.9%), instead opting to attack the middle channels of the pitch.
They also played it safe when exiting their own 22, opting to exit via kicks 61% of the time instead of carrying from deep. However, this approach didn’t bring much success, with Wales being the only Six Nations side with a 22-exit success rate under 90% last year (89%).
It remains to be seen how quickly the squad can re-adapt to the more physical and cerebral approach of “Warrenball”, but there’s no doubting it’s that it’s brought them great success in the past.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Wales struggled to set the pace early in games during last year’s Guinness Six Nations, both scoring the fewest (12) and conceding the most points (40) of any side in the first 20 minutes of games in last year’s Championship. That’s despite scoring the second most (31) and conceding the joint-second fewest points (13) of any team in the last 20 minutes of matches. They subsequentially went on to flip the script in their last game of the 2022 Autumn Nations Series, blowing a 21-point lead against Australia in the final quarter.
Should they wish to challenge in this year’s Six Nations and the World Cup later in the year, they will need to learn how to maintain their performance levels over the full 80 minutes.
The Welsh defence proved difficult to break down last year though, with their 89% tackle success rate the second best of any Tier 1 side. However, they struggled to win the ball outright, winning the fewest turnovers (4.3) and stealing the fewest opposition lineouts (0.3) of any team in 2022 (4.3). Additionally, they also recorded the lowest carry dominance rate of any Tier 1 side (15%), which will be a particular cause of concern for Warren Gatland who typically favours strong ball carriers in his sides.
Jac Morgan will be playing in just his second Six Nations campaign for Wales having only made his Test debut against Scotland in the second round of last year’s Championship. Despite his relative lack of experience, the prodigious Ospreys flanker has already proven himself as a key player at both club and international level.
He was Wales’ top try scorer in 2022, scoring a brace of tries in each of the last two Tests of the year (v Georgia and Australia). In fact, Morgan averaged more tries per 80 minutes than any other Northern Hemisphere player to get 300+ minutes under their belt last year (1.0 tries/80), an exceedingly rare feat for an openside flanker.
Morgan is far from Wales’ only threat in the back row though, with Taulupe Faletau having made the most carries (90) and tackles (120) of any other Wales player in 2022. Faletau could also join the illustrious list of players to have made over 100 Test appearances for Wales if he features in all five of their games, while Leigh Halfpenny needs just three more caps to join the century club. The experience of both could be vital for Gatland’s men this year with the kick-off of the rugby union World Cup looming.
Wales Six Nations 2023 Fixtures:
4 February: Wales v Ireland, Principality Stadium, Cardiff, BBC
11 February: Scotland v Wales, Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh, BBC
25 February: Wales v England, Principality Stadium, Cardiff, BBC
11 March: Italy v Wales, Stadio Olimpico, Rome, ITV
18 March: France v Wales, Stade de France, Saint-Denis, ITV
Wales Six Nations 2023 Squad (as of 17 Jan):
Wyn Jones, Dewi Lake, Liam Williams and fly-half Dan Biggar return to the squad having missed the Autumn Nations Series due to injury.
There is also a recall for Dragons prop Leon Brown, while back row Ross Moriarty, prop Nicky Smith and hooker Ryan Elias, who has been carrying an Achilles injury, are among the notable absentees.
Forwards: Rhys Carre (Cardiff), Wyn Jones (Scarlets), Gareth Thomas (Ospreys), Dewi Lake (Ospreys), Ken Owens (Scarlets, capt), Bradley Roberts (Dragon), Leon Brown (Dragons), Tomas Francis (Ospreys), Dillon Lewis (Cardiff), Adam Beard (Ospreys), Rhys Davies (Ospreys), Dafydd Jenkins (Exeter Chiefs), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys), Teddy Williams (Cardiff), Taulupe Faletau (Cardiff), Jac Morgan (Ospreys), Tommy Reffell (Leicester Tigers), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys), Christ Tshiunza (Exeter Chiefs), Aaron Wainwright (Dragons).
Backs: Kieran Hardy (Scarlets), Rhys Webb (Ospreys), Tomos Williams (Cardiff), Dan Biggar (Toulon), Rhys Patchell (Scarlets), Owen Williams (Ospreys), Mason Grady (Cardiff), Joe Hawkins (Ospreys), George North (Ospreys), Nick Tompkins (Saracens), Keiran Williams (Ospreys), Josh Adams (Cardiff), Alex Cuthbert (Ospreys), Rio Dyer (Dragons), Leigh Halfpenny (Scarlets), Louis Rees-Zammit (Gloucester), Liam Williams (Cardiff).
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