Warren Gatland - Credit: WRU

Wales, crisis and the Six Nations – again: How will Warren Gatland’s men get on in 2023

Warren Gatland’s return as head coach has coincided with off-field issues, but Wales and Gatland have been here before

WALES Six Nations’ campaign gets underway in just four days amid a WRU crisis off the pitch.

 A recent BBC investigation highlighted allegations of sexism and discrimination at the WRU and led to the subsequent resignation of WRU chief executive, Steve Phillips.

Warren Gatland’s side begin their campaign with a home game against Ireland on Saturday, the team currently ranked first in the world. There also has to be a question as to whether the off-field scandal could have a negative impact on the team’s performance.

However, this isn’t the first time a crisis has occurred in Welsh rugby at the worst possible time. Wales supporters know all too well about a crisis behind the scenes at crucial times.

During Wales’ 2019 Six Nations campaign, reports emerged that the Ospreys and Scarlets were to merge, leaving players unsure of their futures, just days before a crucial fixture away to Scotland as Wales chased a Grand Slam.

The off-field issues didn’t affect Wales on that occasion as Wales recorded a 18-11 win in Scotland on their way to the title. The proposed merger subsequently fell through.

In the same year, just days before Wales began their World Cup campaign in Japan, long-time assistant coach, Rob Howley, was sent home after it emerged that he breached betting rules around betting on the sport.

On those occasions, Wales’ performances weren’t affected by the off-field drama and supporters will be hoping that it won’t be any different this time around.

Wales supporter Christopher Parry said: “It won’t affect the players; it will galvanize them. We are used to this in Wales, sadly.”

Fellow supporter, Simon Cooke, said: “It would be an excuse to use a lot of it for poor performance.

“The only cogent argument would be the lack of financial settlement with the regions and even that’s a stretch.”

Wales endured a disastrous 2022 Six Nations campaign, finishing fifth, winning just one game, and suffering a humiliating defeat at home to Italy. It was a disappointing campaign for a side with a proud Six Nations history.

There have been 23 editions of the Six Nations since Italy’s introduction in 2000, and Wales have lifted the title on six occasions, making them the joint second most successful team.

Wales’s awful 2022 Six Nations campaign, coupled with a humiliating Autumn Nations series campaign which saw defeats to Georgia and a weakened Australia team, led to Wayne Pivac’s departure. He was replaced by Warren Gatland.

Gatland’s last Six Nations campaign proved a successful one as his side recorded a memorable Grand Slam, the third of his tenure following successes in 2008 and 2012.

The recent form of the four regional teams in Europe would have given Gatland confidence. The Ospreys recorded back-to-back wins over the French and English champions, which has led to Gatland picking 12 Ospreys in the matchday 23. Gatland will be hoping that they can take their rich vein of form into the international set-up.

Gatland has selected an experienced squad for Saturday’s clash with the average age of the starting team being 29 years old. Eight of the matchday 23 were involved in Wales’ Grand Slam winning team of 2012, putting the squad’s experience into perspective.

Given Wales’ experience and the return of a much-loved, successful head coach, Wales are expected to make strides this campaign ahead of the World Cup in the autumn which will be Wales’ main priority.

Wales last three Six Nations wins, 2013, 2019 and 2021 all came in seasons where Wales faced England and Ireland at home and Scotland, France and Italy away. Ireland’s record in Cardiff has been poor of late and they have not won a Six Nations game in Cardiff since 2013, suffering four consecutive defeats.

Wales know if they can defeat Ireland on the opening day that there is no reason why they can’t go on and compete for the title, laying the foundations for a successful World Cup campaign.

The Cardiffian’s prediction: 2nd place. Wales will fall just short of a remarkable title win with a defeat to France on the final day.