By Liam Corcoran
With last week marking the first weekend break of the 2016 RBS Six Nations Championship, we finally get a chance to take a breather and look back at how the tournament has gone, especially for pre-tournament favourites Wales and how they’ve dealt with the tag.
Going into the tournament, it seemed the onus was on England with their new face set up, with controversial captain Dylan Hartley and new coach Eddie Jones seemingly doing well so far, though they have failed to set the tournament alight.
Wales on the other hand seemed to be the most stable nation going into the campaign, with Warren Gatland taking charge of his 8th championship and with a familiar squad lining up, it was a case of taking it that one step further for Wales. All the signs suggested that this would be more likely than ever given the change happening in the England camp and Ireland’s poor World Cup campaign along with their catalogue of injuries.
It seemed quite appropriate that Wales began their campaign in Dublin at the Aviva Stadium against their toughest opponents of the tournament, where a win could kick-start another Grand Slam campaign. Expectations were high for Wales, so when Joe Schmidt’s men held them to a 16-16 draw there was a sense of deflation within the camp, despite the championship still being in their own hands. One particular positive from the performance was the character showed by the side, coming back from 13-0 down to save the draw. As well as this, the returns of Jonathan Davies and Liam Williams were a welcome boost to the side and the mountainous performance of Jamie Roberts left Welsh fans purring. Aside from the result in Dublin, there was a cause for concern amongst Welsh fans as Dan Biggar limped off injured in the first half with suspected ankle ligament damage.
When the fly half was then named in the starting line up to face Scotland, Gatland branded his recovery a “miracle” and captain Sam Warburton commented on how hard Biggar had worked to get back into the side in time. It was everything we have learnt to expect from a Wales v Scotland match, an absolute rollercoaster ending in heartache for the Scots, as a try from George North, ending his recent drought in Welsh colours, put the game out of site for Scotland. Man of the match and Wales’ player of the tournament, Jamie Roberts, put in another unbelievable performance, which was appropriately topped off with a barnstorming try just when Scotland were creeping into the driving seat. Despite a late try from Duncan Taylor, Wales ran out 27-23 winners to keep alive hopes of championship win.
Jamie Roberts was instrumental in both performances and the Welsh inside-centre has come back rejuvenated following his move to Aviva Premiership outfit, Harlequins. Another star for Wales this year has been a more unsung hero, Luke Charteris. The 6”10 second row has been dominant in the line out and the set piece has really become a platform for the Welsh attack, as showed with George North’s try against Scotland. He has also been strong in defending opposition lineouts, with his gargantuan arms swimming up the maul and disrupting the drive of the attackers on more than one occasion.
With France, England and Italy coming up it won’t be getting any easier for Wales, with the French and English both holding 100% records at the moment. Wales would be favourites for the French clash but would need to be strong going forward as Guy Noves’ side will be confident in defence after keeping Ireland out for 80 minutes in Paris. If the likes of Jamie Roberts and George North keep up this form, then Wales have to remain confident that they can claim the title and this will only be helped by the return of scrum half, Rhys Webb, who has made two appearances for the Ospreys, since completing his return from a four month injury lay-off.
Wales welcome France to Cardiff’s Principality Stadium this Friday evening, before a crunch clash at Twickenham with England on 12th March and a home game with Italy to end the campaign on 19th. With both France and England both having one hundred per cent records so far, it seems likely that only three wins in their final three games will secure Wales a famous fifth Six Nations crown.