World Rugby

Welsh Rugby Awaits Rebirth In 2024 Guinness Six Nations Championship

Welsh Rugby Awaits Rebirth In 2024 Guinness Six Nations Championship

Welsh Rugby faces a critical test against Scotland, with hopes of a resurgence under Gatland at the Principality Stadium in the Guinness Six Nations 2024.

Jan 30, 2024 by Philip Bendon
Welsh Rugby Awaits Rebirth In 2024 Guinness Six Nations Championship

From the ashes rises the dragon. This will be the hope amongst the Welsh Rugby public come Saturday afternoon when their team plays host to Scotland at the Principality Stadium. 

Hot on the heels of a historic run of Six Nations and Rugby World Cup success between 2008 and 2019, the wheels unceremoniously fell off the Welsh wagon when head coach Warren Gatland departed. 

Following years of issues away from the field of play, the halt in talent coming through the regional system began to take its toll on the national side. 

Unfortunately for the new head coach Wayne Pivac, a Six Nations title in 2020 and a first win over the Springboks in South Africa would not be enough to keep his job, as sandwiching these results were a handful of historic defeats. 

Putting the final nail in the coffin for the Kiwi coach were losses at home to Italy and Georgia, signaling a low point unlike any since their 2007 Rugby World Cup pool-stage exit. 

Last Time Out

As Pivac was relieved of his duties, Gatland returned to a welcome befitting a messiah. 

A fifth-place finish in 2023 with just a lone victory over Italy would serve as a stark reminder that not even Wales’ most successful coach could wave a magic wand. 

Across the other four fixtures, the long and short of the championship was that Wales failed to fire a shot. Instead, Gatland used the tests as an opportunity to see what he was working with, as he routinely rotated his squad. This tactic would see the men in red fail to come within a score of Ireland, Scotland, France and England. 

Gatland’s experimenting and extended time with the squad would pay off, as they played out a highly promising Rugby World Cup pool-stage run. However, as quickly as the optimism rose, it was shattered, as Argentina’s Los Pumas mercilessly dumped Gatland’s charges out at the quarterfinal stage. 

Speaking about the challenges facing Welsh Rugby, Gatland admitted had he been aware of the extent to which things had fallen, he would not have returned. Now fixed and locked into the role, the wily Kiwi coach proved once again that he is not a quitter and now is front and center of a full rebuild for one of Rugby’s preeminent nations. 

Key Player 

Sam Costelow, Fly-Half

Watching the indomitable sands of time usher out a golden generation of Welsh Rugby, the likes of which had not been seen since the 1980s, Gatland saw many of the players with whom he enjoyed immense success depart. Names such as Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric, Dan Biggar, Leigh Halfpenny, Liam Williams and Ken Owens have moved on. 

Left behind these greats of the modern game is a vacuum of talent with a seemingly missing generation of mid-career players who have not materialized. Instead of having players approaching their 50th test caps, Gatland has a squad filled with players who have single-digit caps to their names. 

Summing up this lack of experience is the fly-half position where Gatland has listed Sam Costelow (eight caps), Cai Evans (one cap) and Ioan Lloyd (one cap) as his three options. 

Seemingly in pole position to start is Costelow, who was a member of the Welsh Rugby World Cup squad. 

The 23-year-old is unlike the game manager style operators Gatland has had in previous squads. Instead, he is more of a ball player who is likely to have a cut himself. 

Using Biggar and Gareth Anscombe as examples, the duo were field generals who controlled everything the Welsh attack did. 

For Wales to enjoy any success in this championship, Costelow will need to step up and take control of the red No. 10 shirt. Failure to do so, and Wales will be relying on the one-time capped Lloyd or Evans, who is more routinely a fullback for his regional side the Dragons. 

Breakthrough Player

Daffyd Jenkins, Lock

Strange to say, but Wales’s breakthrough player may well be the 12 times-capped captain Daffyd Jenkins. 

The Exeter lock was somewhat of a left-field choice, but with regular co-captains Dewi Lake and Jac Morgan on the side-lines with injury, the giant 21-year-old looks to be at the footsteps of what should be a great test career. 

At 6-foot-7, Jenkins is exactly the build required of a line-out general secondrow in 2024. 

Already familiar with leadership, having become the youngest captain in English Premiership Rugby history in 2022, Jenkins looks to be one of the key building blocks Gatland has identified for this rebuild. 

Squaring off with a fancied Scottish side in Round 1, Jenkins and his forward pack are the key to Wales having any chance of victory. 

Across the backline, there simply is no contest between the two, with the Scots having some exceptional and crucially experienced operators. 

The one area, however, that Gregor Townsend’s side has been found wanting is in the immensely physical battles, where the likes of South Africa, France and Ireland have bulldozed them. 

If Wales can get on top of the close quarters and set piece, it will go a long way to stopping the likes of Finn Russell, Blair Kinghorn and company from having a field day. 

Toughest Fixture 

Round 3 against Ireland in Dublin will be a tough ask for Wales against a team that remains one of the best in the world, despite their four-point Rugby World Cup quarterfinal exit. 

Taking into account Ireland’s outlandish record, where the men in green rarely lose to anyone at the Aviva Stadium, 2024 doesn’t look like the year they will slip up.

Tournament Outlook 

Every post-World Cup championship throws up a surprise, and if any team is capable of pulling off a shock, it is a Warren Gatland-coached Welsh side. 

Taking the realistic route, Wales will enter every fixture, bar their clash with Italy, as underdog, and this feels right. 

Reflecting on years gone by, Wales does not lose to Scotland in Cardiff. Last year’s drubbing at Murrayfiel likely will have removed a few mental barriers for the Scots, who will arrive in Cardiff confident of continuing the reversing of the tide against their southern rivals. 

Traveling to London and Dublin in consecutive rounds before hosting France in Cardiff all feel like mission impossible, but finishing in Rome could put a rosy tint on the championship. 

From the outset, we will say that Wales will start and end positively, but the three rounds in between will be humbling and highlight how far Wales is behind the top sides in the world.

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