25.11.19 - Wales Rugby Training -Wayne Pivac.

Can Wales transform their autumn woes into a Six Nations surge?

Wayne Pivac’s men face Ireland in an empty Principality Stadium on Sunday

THERE’S no doubt that the past few months for Welsh rugby have been questionable.

This time last year, Wales were heading into the 2020 Guinness Six Nations with open optimism to win back-to-back Grand Slam campaigns.

However, a fifth-place finish and a surprising loss against Scotland blew away all expectations. Could we see another disappointing performance on the international stage this year?

Looking at the training squad, there are some notable omissions which have caused a stir.

A long string of injuries meant that Rob Evans, Nicky Smith, Samson Lee, Ross Moriarty and Rhys Patchell are all omitted from the squad. Scrum-half Rhys Webb and Bath’s fly-half Rhys Priestland have both also been left out.

Pivac also brought some new blood into the squad, including uncapped flanker Josh Macleod. 20-year-old Louis Rees-Zammit, who impressed in the autumn, has also been included.

If he is given a chance this tournament, Rees-Zammit could join forces with George North on the pitch and bring an edge and presence to match other nations. 

On a positive note, we will witness the long-awaited return from injury of captain Alun Wyn Jones. Having been absent from the international rugby scene for some time, Welsh fans might breathe a sigh of relief at seeing a familiar face who has wreaked havoc in the past. 

Looking back at Wales’ recent performances, they have certainly been lacklustre. A notable example was when Wales were overpowered and out-muscled by England during the Autumn Internationals. Only seven days before, the team managed to scrape a win against Georgia.

This was indeed a wake up call for Wales, who now sit at ninth place in the world rankings.

Captain Alun Wyn Jones is back after a knee injury (Credit: Welsh Rugby Union)

It can be argued that Wales’ autumn campaign was unfortunate and, on another day, it could have gone differently. However, there’s no justifying being nearly beaten by a passionate Italian side, nor giving away endless penalties against Ireland.

So, where do Wales start their winning streak? Pivac’s men will meet Ireland in their opening game of the tournament in Cardiff.

Pivac has said ahead of the game: “We’re looking forward to getting back there. No crowds is a disappointment, but the stadium is the home of Welsh rugby and that’s where we want to be.”

Captain Jones added: “It’s going to be nice to go back to Principality Stadium. It’s where I like to play rugby for Wales for obvious reasons.”

The home of Welsh rugby is back in use (Credit: TFDuesing / Thomas Duesing)

Wales’ last four matches have been played at Parc y Scarlets in Llanelli as the Principality Stadium was being used as the Dragon’s Heart Hospital to help fight Covid-19.

Like every opening fixture, this first game will make or break Wales’ Grand Slam hopes. After their imperfect autumn campaign the Welsh will have to produce a miracle of a performance to beat Ireland. There are no guarantees in sport, so anything can happen. 

The full Wales Six Nations squad:

Forwards: Rhys Carre, Wyn Jones, Rhodri Jones, Elliot Dee, Ryan Elias, Ken Owens, Leon Brown, Tomas Francis, Dillon Lewis, Jake Ball, Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones, Will Rowlands, Cory Hill, Dan Lydiate, Josh Navidi, Aaron Wainwright, Taulupe Faletau, Josh Macleod, Justin Tipuric.

Backs: Gareth Davies, Tomos Williams, Kieran Hardy, Dan Biggar, Jarrod Evans, Callum Sheedy, Johnny Williams, Jonathan Davies, Nick Tompkins, Owen Watkin, George North, Josh Adams, Hallam Amos, Louis Rees-Zammit, Leigh Halfpenny, Liam Williams.

  • (Sunday 7th February) Wales v Ireland, Principality Stadium, Guinness Six Nations, KO 15:00 GMT