RUGBY AUTUMN INTERNATIONALS | SPORTS PREVIEW
Campbell Prosser looks ahead to some of the big challenges facing the Welsh rugby squad in Autumn.
The twilight zone of the rugby season; the old adage of there being “no such thing as a friendly” looms overhead. Each outcome goes towards an intangible tally that represents the non-geographical gap between Northern and Southern Hemisphere rugby. In a time where the most pressing question seems to be: can anyone put a halt to the reign of the mighty All Blacks (or maybe try stopping the Barretts as a start)? The Lions tour, though somewhat jarring in its result, did prove that the Kiwis are in fact mortal beings after all. Nevertheless, Gatland surely finds little satisfaction in this and will strive for the Welsh to make progress in conquering the south.
There were some outstanding performances from Welsh players during the Lions tour, especially from the Man of the Series Johnathan Davies. Liam Williams shocked with his performance and outshone Wales’ poster-boy George North. Whilst the likes of Dan Bigger, Alun Wyn Jones, Rhys Webb and Taulupe Faletau were stalwart performers, some were limited by the amount of game time. Wales clearly have no shortage of talent or experience. Nevertheless, it’s time for Welsh rugby to adapt to its surroundings. They have been granted a fantastic set of fixtures this year that will show where they take their place in world rugby.
Australia – First Test
Sat 11 Nov
The Aussies always bring their A-game against the home nations, which is a troubling prospect for the Welsh. Conversely, it could be the perfect opening fixture for Wales, with the excitement of being up against a top ranked team at home. Hopefully this will raise intensity levels for the Welsh. The Wallabies are a side with a lot of flair, but as we saw in last year’s match against Wales, they often struggle to finish. The real threat comes in the ruck; Australia have a fantastic ability to steal ball, which will need to be stopped with force and technique. This is likely to be the most even fixture from a Welsh perspective.
Georgia – Second Test
Sat 18 Nov
One of the most inspiring elements of world rugby at the moment is the progression of its fringe teams. Globalisation is taking its effect on the rugby world; first Argentina join SANZAAR, then Japan are included in the autumn internationals, and now two South African teams entering the newly-named Pro 14. There are currently whispers of two Georgian teams joining Pro Rugby, with the hopes that it will spark some life into Georgian rugby and prevent it plateauing as the Italians did. Similarly for Wales, it’s a chance to involve some of their fringe players and test other options.
New Zealand – Third Test
Sat 25 Nov
Undoubtedly the most anticipated and paradoxically feared event for Welsh rugby fans. Wales haven’t beaten the All Blacks since 1953, which is unbelievable when you consider the quality of some the Welsh sides over those decades. The All Blacks success relies on fundamentals, each black shirt on the park being a ball player and getting the little things right. In the past, the Welsh tactics have been about forcing the All Blacks into playing northern hemisphere rugby, slow and structured with lots of set pieces. Is it time for the Welsh to try to play fast-paced, open rugby, with plenty of off-loads or would it be a futile effort to beat them at their own game? It’s much more likely that the game plan will revert to an attempt to bombard New Zealand with Gatlandball.
South Africa – Fourth Test
Sat 2 Dec
The wounded Springboks seemed to take a step in the right direction with their last fixture against New Zealand. They had little choice but to rectify the historic thrashing they received in the previous match when they lost 57-0. If South Africa can get back to their brutal ways, they could prove troublesome for Wales, but the level of experience on the Welsh side (with multiple Lions on the squad) should allow them to dominate this unfamiliar South African squad.
Wales Autumn Internationals 2017, Principality Stadium, Cardiff. Info: 08442 491 999 / http://www.wru.co.uk/eng/home.php