In previous years, three home wins and a third-placed finish would have been welcomed by Welsh fans and players alike, but under the leadership of Warren Gatland, much more is expected each time the Six Nations comes around.
History beckoned for this exciting crop of players as they aimed to win the Championship for a third successive year, a feat never achieved by any team previously. However, defeats away from home against Ireland and England derailed their challenge. Throughout the Championship, the key word used to describe Wales’ title defence was ‘inconsistent’.
As it has been for many years now under the guidance of Shaun Edwards, one of Wales’ best sources of attack comes in the form of their defence, and this year was no different.
All three of Wales’ wins were founded upon great ruck work from the Welsh back row. However, in the opening two games, Dan Lydiate was not up to the standard he set for himself back in the 2012 Six Nations, when he was named Player of the Tournament.
By contrast, Sam Warburton was back on form and ‘Captain Fantastic’ even earned himself a try against France in the process – just his third in a Wales shirt. Taulupe Faletau also had an impressive tournament, not only in and around the breakdown, but also with the ball in hand. The Newport Gwent Dragons man made 53 carries in the tournament – the most of any Welsh player.
The set-piece may be a cause for concern for Robin McBryde’s pack, as there was no real foundation for the backs to play on, leading to a rather quiet Championship for last year’s hero, Alex Cuthbert. With Luke Charteris, Jake Ball and Alun Wyn Jones all rotating due to injuries in the second row, the lineout was inconsistent.
As for the scrum, Wales’ new record cap-holder Gethin Jenkins will be particularly disappointed with his performance, as he continues to struggle with the new rules. He gave away a total of seven penalties, earning himself two yellow cards in the process.
However, one of the few positives for Wales in this tournament was the form of George North, who notched up three tries and beat a total of 16 defenders in doing so.
Next up for Wales is a tour of South Africa in June, where they will face a strong Springbok side. They will be without Warburton and Leigh Halfpenny, who have both been ruled out with dislocated shoulders.
No Welsh side has ever won a fixture against the Springboks on South African soil, but the Welsh fans will demand a victory to ensure that 2014 is not a year to forget.
Bismarck du Plessis, arguably the world’s best hooker, will face crowd favourite Richard Hibbard in what could be one of the clashes of the tour and North will be looking to replicate the form he showed on his début in 2010, when he scored two tries against South Africa.
Wales take on Heyneke Meyer’s men in Durban on June 14th and then a week later in Nelspruit as Warren Gatland looks to banish his poor record against the Southern Hemisphere giants, with his last victory against any of the Big Three coming against Australia way back in 2008.