CAPTAIN: Alun-Wyn Jones
HEAD COACH: Wayne Pivac
Experienced flanker Dan Lydiate has been recalled to the team for the first time in just over two years, with the Ospreys flanker providing an interesting option in the back row. Another flanker, Josh Navidi, a mainstay of the Wales team in recent years, has also been recalled, having struggled with injury over most of last year. Bristol Bears fly-half Callum Sheedy is one of the most dangerous players in the Premiership, and showed his quality in the Autumn Nations Cup last year, linking play well and getting attacks going. Flying Gloucester winger Louis Rees-Zammit always provides a try-scoring threat, and loves to run with the ball.
Flanker Justin Tipuric has been one of Wales’ most dependable players in recent years, and, at the age of 31, the Ospreys flanker is one of the most experienced members of the squad. We have seen how he loves to have the ball, and breaks strong defences down well, finding gaps in between players. He is a really attacking forward, and is difficult to stop when he gets going. When he is in form, Wales tend to play better and look more confident in themselves.
It’s a theme with the experience, but Wales thrive off players who have been in the team a long time and know what is expected of them. Scarlets centre Jonathan Davies has easily been one of the more influential players in the team, always creating chances and making key runs when they are required. He is the one the players look to when they need some inspiration, and the fact that he was the Player of the Series in the 2017 British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand demonstrates how much his teammates think of him on the pitch. We can expect that he will play a big part in Wales’ tournament.
Let’s be honest, Wales had a year to forget in 2020, both in the Six Nations and the Autumn Nations Cup. Under new management, they looked lacklustre at times, and the defensive strength and rigidity that we have long-associated with them was gone. Their attack also looked short of ideas at times, and they became easy for other teams to beat. It was almost painful watching them last season at times, and we don’t need to say much more in this analysis about a year they won’t want to repeat.
Given last year’s performances, Wales will arguably be the team needing to improve the most. However, will this pressure help or hinder them in that aim? That is the question that we are all asking, and is one that Wales must answer in their first game, in all honesty. They need to simply be more confident in themselves, and possibly even go back to some of the tactics they used under former boss Warren Gatland. Obviously new coaches mean new ideas and styles of play, but it didn’t work under Wayne Pivac last season, as was hoped, so this year will be the one where we learn a lot about where Wales are going under the New Zealander’s leadership.