So after training trips to the harshest of climates the Welsh squad returned to the field of play. As with any pre-season game errors were to be expected and with a very different looking Welsh XV including four new caps. What is also traditional is for the typical excuses to be trotted out that Wales start slowly in matches, which must be endemic across the whole squad no matter who they pick. As a result, Ireland accelerated into a 25-0 lead after only 35 minutes, playing with control, patience and intelligence. Wales responded to score a converted try and Eli Walker’s acrobatics although spectacular failed to ground the ball properly before the half time break.
Early thoughts included a poor start from captain Scott Williams, losing the ball in contact, being burnt for pace on the outside by Felix Jones and stepped by the excellent Keith Earls. The scrum was also a concern, Nicky Smith being given a particularly torrid time. Lineouts of course went awry as they often do, particularly when close to the Irish tryline. The second half saw some improvement with Ireland lowering their intensity and seeing the customary raft of changes. Tupric’s try in particular was one to savour but ultimately the result was already sealed.
In other headlines Australia beat the All Blacks for the first time since 2011 and won this years shortened Rugby Championship built on a superb forward display. The squad the Wallabies now have puts them in a strong position heading into RWC2015, with the composure of players like the recalled Matt Giteau precisely what they needed in the backs instead of the mercurial but sometimes appalling Quade Cooper. The All Blacks will be livid with certain missed tackles that lead to tries and you would fully expect them to retain the Bledisloe Cup with a thumping victory next weekend. But suddenly Australia have become genuine World Cup contenders.
Also of note is Argentina’s fantastic result in Durban beating South Africa for the first time ever. Although the Boks will be disappointed by their performance huge credit to Argentina for their finishing of scoring opportunities and proving that having them joining the Tri Nations has done their team the world of good. Perhaps Argentina, confident of qualifying from their pool behind New Zealand, are a decent bet to make a World Cup semi final.
Anyway, back to Wales and the inevitable discussion of who will make the World Cup squad from this week’s performance. Short answer, very few.
Hallam Amos – OUT (One for the future but not ready yet)
Alex Cuthbert – IN (Still the same player, culpable in defence and runs straight but fits the big powerful game plan)
Tyler Morgan – IN (Makes the squad with Jon Davies out injured)
Scott Williams – IN (Guaranteed starter in place of the injured Jon Davies)
Eli Walker – OUT (If he’d got downward pressure on the ball to score he would’ve made it in)
James Hook – OUT (Didn’t shine when he really needed to but could cover several positions if selected)
Mike Phillips – OUT (A RWC too far, still his typical self but lost the pace which Rhys Webb and others provide)
Nicky Smith – OUT (Third choice after the certainties Gethin Jenkins and Paul James but might be cover)
Richard Hibbard – IN (May not be first choice anymore but still gives his all with big tackles)
Aaron Jarvis – IN (Probably makes the squad with doubts over Samson Lee and Rhodri Jones injured)
Jake Ball – IN (Solid cover for AWJ and Charteris)
Dominic Day – OUT (Might do a Will James and sneak into a World Cup squad but not very likely)
Ross Moriaty – OUT (Has potential but back row is very competitive and temperament a question)
Justin Tipuric – IN (Guaranteed squad member, might not start the big games but will be crucial on the bench)
Dan Baker – OUT (Anonymous game and Faletau is not going to lose his spot)
Rob Evans – IN (Toss up between him and Nicky Smith for who covers Loosehead)
Kristian Dacey – OUT (Great performer for Cardiff Blues and definitely more caps to come in the future)
Scott Andrews – OUT (Probably misses out to Aaron Jarvis but might make squad depending on injuries)
James King – OUT (Back row far too competitive for him to make the squad)
Taulupe Faletau – IN (Starts at number 8 for the majority of games and rightly so)
Lloyd Williams – IN (More in the mould of number one 9 Rhys Webb than Phillips and makes the squad for that reason)
Gareth Anscombe – IN (Covers 10 and 15, plays flat and good distributor, third choice 10 but could become second choice to Biggar with some good performances)
Matthew Morgan – OUT (Doesn’t fit the power game favoured by Gatland but has skills and pace that could unlock a lot of defenses. Misses out to Anscombe but would be perfect for the Uruguay match)
And now for the new Wales kit. Reactions have been varied. I personally don’t mind it too much. As usual too much thought has gone into it. The ‘Oxblood’ detail (a darker red stripe) is added because oxblood was mixed with cement because of a superstition that the blood of a strong animal would strengthen a building or structure. Also a trim of ‘Welsh Gold’ adorns the shirt, shorts and socks. Perhaps if Wales had already won the World Cup then that could be acknowledged in the kit. Ultimately it is red and the shorts have gone back to traditional white. The away kit, although appearing to be black, is in fact ‘anthracite’. No matter what Wales wear all the fans want to see is a better performance than Saturday and hopefully plenty of wins!