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Very few teams around the world have a richer or more prestigious heritage at Rugby World Cups than Wales. Although Warren Gatland’s side have been in poor form of late, the 1987, 2011 and 2019 semi-finalists are a different beast at Rugby World Cup.
- 1 Very few teams around the world have a richer or more prestigious heritage at Rugby World Cups than Wales. Although Warren Gatland’s side have been in poor form of late, the 1987, 2011 and 2019 semi-finalists are a different beast at Rugby World Cup.
After the shock international retirements of veteran legends Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric and Rhys Webb and an injury to Ken Owens, Wales have been pushed to test their depth. However, Warren Gatland has been able to name a strong 33-man squad, headlined by newly appointed co-captains, Dewi Lake and Jac Morgan.
- Nicky Smith – Ospreys (44 caps)
- Gareth Thomas – Ospreys (22 caps)
- Corey Domachowski – Cardiff (2 caps)
- Dillon Lewis – Harlequins (51 caps)
- Tomas Francis – Provence (72 caps)
- Henry Thomas – Montpellier (2 caps)
Plenty of casualties in this department. British and Irish Lion Rob Evans recently announced he would play for his local amateur club over the World Cup after falling out of favour, while the 25-cap Rhys Carre was bizarrely publicly outed for being unfit by the Wales coaching staff, prompting his removal from the squad. The 48-cap Wyn Jones is also snubbed.
Montpellier’s Henry Thomas earned seven caps for England from 2013-2014, due to his Welsh father, he is Wales’ first use of the new eligibility rules as he made his last England appearance more than three years ago.
- Elliot Dee – Dragons (43 caps)
- Dewi Lake – Ospreys (9 caps)
- Ryan Elias – Scarlets (34 caps)
The big name missing here is the captain Ken Owens. ‘The Sheriff’, as he is affectionately known, sustained a back injury in training camp in June, resulting in one of his successors, Dewi Lake, to be named co-captain for the World Cup. The loss of 91-caps in Owens is a huge blow in an inexperienced area for Wales.
Dewi Lake has many people in Wales very excited, it remains to be seen whether the 24-year-old will start over the more experienced Dee and Elias or be used as impact from the bench.
- Adam Beard – Ospreys (47 caps)
- Dafydd Jenkins – Exeter Chiefs (7 caps)
- Will Rowlands – Racing 92 (25 caps)
The shock retirement of Wales’ talismanic former captain and most capped ever international, Alun Wyn Jones, sent shockwaves through Welsh rugby when it was announced in May and prompted the question if he could be replaced in Wales’ second row.
Though Jones was and will forever be a legend, the answer is – yes. In Beard and Rowlands Wales have two extremely talented individuals with plenty of experience in the test arena, while Jenkins is a thoroughly promising prospect who impressed as the captain of the under-20s and has shone brightly in his limited international experience.
- Taine Basham – Dragons (13 caps)
- Taulupe Faletau – Cardiff (100 caps)
- Dan Lydiate – Dragons (71 caps)
- Jac Morgan – Ospreys (11 caps)
- Tommy Reffell – Leicester Tigers (10 caps)
- Christ Tshuinza – Exeter Chiefs (7 caps)
- Aaron Wainwright – Dragons (39 caps)
Just about the only area where cut-throat decisions were made, the Welsh back row depth is their biggest strength. The likes of Shane Lewis-Hughes, James Botham, Taine Plumtree, Ross Moriarty, Thomas Young and Josh Macleod were all left at home as Gatland banked on 21-year-old Tshuinza and 24-year-old Reffell along with the experinced Faletau and Lydiate.
11-cap Jac Morgan is the new co-captain in a back row selection where the only problem is that all seven names could start their first game, Gatland’s selection will be tough and intersting.
- Gareth Davies – Scarlets (69 caps)
- Tomos Williams – Cardiff (48 caps)
- Sam Costelow – Scarlets (4 caps)
- Dan Biggar – Toulon (109 caps)
- Gareth Anscombe – Suntory Goliath (35 caps)
We’ve grouped scrum halves and fly halves as Gatland makes the slightly unusual decision to only take two scrum halves. Kieran Hardy and Dane Blacker are snubbed after Rhys Webb announced his shock retirement in June, leaving just Davies and Williams with Gatland proposing that Costelow is scrum half cover.
The 22-year-old Costelow is the only slight surprise as the more experienced Jarrod Evans, Sam Davies and Rhys Patchell are left at home, however, Costelow is an extremely promising young prospect.
- Mason Grady – Cardiff (4 caps)
- Nick Tompkins – Saracens (28 caps)
- Johnny Williams – Scarlets (6 caps)
- George North – Ospreys (114 caps)
A big blow here is 21-year-old Joe Hawkins who was one of Wales’ best players throughout the Six Nations, only for his decision to move to Exeter Chiefs in England make him ineligible for the World Cup.
New Gloucester signing Max Llewellyn is also left out as Johnny Williams makes his return to international rugby after a two year absence.
- Josh Adams – Cardiff (50 caps)
- Rio Dyer – Dragons (9 caps)
- Louis Rees-Zammit – Gloucester (27 caps)
- Leigh Halfpenny – Unattached (100 caps)
- Liam Williams – Kubota Spears (85 caps)
A strong selection with plenty of experience in tandem with plenty of youthful exuberance. The only real notable absence is Alex Cuthbert, however, Rio Dyer had an extremely strong debut Autumn Nations Cup campaign and backed it up with a standout Six Nations.
Wales will be grateful for the return of their reliable fullbacks Halfpenny and Williams, wise heads and safe hands who know how to win.
Key Players – Jac Morgan and Louis Rees-Zammit
Gone are the days of Wales being driven around the field by calm and stoic leaders such as Sam Warburton or Stephen Jones. Their new best friend is unpredictability. With no real successful game plan displayed on the field during the new Gatland regime, they need their young talent to pull several rabbits from their hats.
Jac Morgan is a feverish and tireless rugby player, reminiscent of a young Warburton he regularly tops tackle stats and wins game-changing turnovers. He is also a dark horse in attack, using his soft handling and freakish turn of speed to set him apart, shown by his four tries in two games in last year’s Autumn Nations Cup.
Similarly, Rees-Zammit is a mercurial and one-of-a-kind talent who is capable of jaw-dropping moments of magic that few other players around the world are capable of. The British and Irish Lion already has nine international tries in 27 caps and will be keen to add more at Rugby World Cup 2023.
To put it bluntly, Wales have not been in worse form entering a World Cup for at least sixteen years, maybe more. The sacking of Wayne Pivac seemed rash and reactionary and Warren Gatland has not yet got his team playing like they did in his first spell as Head Coach. A second successive fifth-place finish in the Six Nations saw a lack of promising or creative rugby and a leaky defence be regularly exposed.
Last Five Matches:
- Wales 16-52 South Africa
- England 19-17 Wales
- Wales 20-9 England
- France 41-28 Wales
- Italy 17-29 Wales
Odds at Rugby World Cup 2023 for Wales – 40/1
Wales have the eighth best odds to win the whole tournament, which is generous considering they recently fell to tenth in the world rankings. Despite being on the easier side of the draw, which will give them an advantageous run to the semi-finals in which they won’t have to play any team in the top five of the world rankings, Wales’ initial goal will be to simply escape their group.
Wales World Cup Schedule:
- vs Fiji, 10th September 20:00 – Bordeaux
- vs Portugal, 16th September 16:45 – Nice
- vs Australia, 24th September 20:00 – Lyon
- vs Georgia, 7th October 14:00 – Nantes
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