Six Nations preview: Can Wales cause an upset?

Rugby Tuesday January 23, 2024 By: Harry Howes

The Six Nations is now just over a week away and next up on our home nations preview tour are Wales, who have won the competition twice in the last five years.

Like England and Ireland before them, Wales are entering something of a transition period in terms of their squad, with plenty of up and coming players set to be given the chance to impress over the coming months.

Warren Gatland’s hand has been forced due to injuries and key players retiring and it remains to be seen whether a host of fresh faces will revitalise them or if their inexperience will show.

Yet it may prove to be a blessing in disguise. Wales endured a disappointing Six Nations campaign a year ago, finishing fifth in the table with their only win coming against lowly Italy. They’ve since crashed out of the World Cup in the quarter-finals, although they topped their group unbeaten and smashed Australia 40-6.

The Six Nations gives them the chance to experiment and give us a glimpse of what the future holds for them. But with a tough set of games ahead of them, this year’s competition may have come too early.

When are Wales playing?

Wales v Scotland – Saturday 3rd February: Principality Stadium, Cardiff

England v Wales – Saturday 10th February: Twickenham, London

Ireland v Wales – Saturday 24th February: Aviva Stadium, Dublin

Wales v France  – Sunday 10th March: Principality Stadium, Cardiff

Wales v Italy – Saturday 16th March: Principality Stadium, Cardiff

Out with the old, in with the new

It seems to be a common theme in this year’s Six Nations that teams are being forced to reshuffle their squads and Wales are no different. Gatland has selected an inexperienced group, with five uncapped players and an average age of 25.

The good news is that experienced head George North is still around, although the influential centre is a fitness worry after picking up a shoulder injury playing for Ospreys out in South Africa. However, for Wales their squad is very much about who isn’t involved than who is.

Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tpuric, Dan Biggar and Leigh Halfpenny have all retired, while Liam Williams, Gareth Anscombe, Dan Lydiate and Tomas Francis also won’t be involved. Elsewhere, several big hitters are ruled out through injury, including World Cup co-captains Dewi Lake and Jac Morgan.

Their absences have led to Gatland trusting 21-year-old Dafydd Jenkins with the armband. While it remains a huge honour for the Exeter Chiefs lock, it highlights the glaring lack of experience in the squad.

Wales will also be unable to call upon Louis Rees-Zammit. The 22-year-old, who has won 32 caps for his nation, turned his back on the sport last week as he seeks a new career playing in the NFL.

Can Wales win the Six Nations?

It’s unlikely but never say never! Wales may struggle with such a young squad lacking in big-game experience. But on the other hand, if you’re good enough you’re old enough and there’s no reason why this competition can’t be the making of them.

Despite losing a huge number of stalwarts, their experienced players could only manage a fifth-place finish last time out, so the new kids on the block can’t do much worse.

The pressure will be off Wales, with the likes of Ireland, France and England expected to get the better of them, and Gatland will make it clear to them that nobody is expecting them to be world beaters yet.

But if they can put a string of performances together, and maybe grind out a shock result or two, there’s every chance that this year’s Six Nations could be the start of an exciting new era for Welsh rugby.

Wales Six Nations squad

Forwards: Corey Domachowski, Kemsley Mathias, Gareth Thomas, Elliot Dee, Ryan Elias, Evan Lloyd, Keiron Assiratti, Leon Brown, Archie Griffin, Adam Beard, Dafydd Jenkins, Will Rowlands, Teddy Williams, Taine Basham, James Botham, Alex Mann, Mackenzie Martin, Tommy Reffell, Aaron Wainwright

Backs: Gareth Davies, Kieran Hardy, Tomos Williams, Sam Costelow, Cai Evans, Ioan Lloyd, Mason Grady, George North, Joe Roberts, Nick Tompkins, Owen Watkin, Josh Adams, Rio Dyer, Tom Rogers, Cameron Winnett

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