Few teams have had a rougher 2020 than Wales and new coach Wayne Pivac, who assumed the difficult task of replacing Warren Gatland at the end of 2019.
At 1-5 on the year, Wales have lost five consecutive games after a shutout win over Italy in the Six Nations opener back in February. Fortunately for the men in red, they can salvage a disappointing year with a strong showing in the Autumn Nations Cup.
At present, the team is undergoing a bit of a rebrand, with a mixture of old heads and younger players both adapting to a new, more expansive style of play under Pivac. Putting together a new system will certainly take time, but with every loss, that coaching seat gets hotter and hotter.
Props: Rhys Carre; Leon Brown; Rob Evans; Tomas Francis; Samson Lee; Dillon Lewis; Nicky Smith
Hookers: Elliot Dee; Ryan Elias; Sam Parry
Locks: Jake Ball; Adam Beard; Seb Davies; Cory Hill; Alun Wyn Jones; Will Rowlands
Flankers: James Davies; Shane Lewis-Hughes; Justin Tipuric; Aaron Wainwright
No. 8’s: Taulupe Faletau; Ross Moriarty
Scrum-halves: Gareth Davies; Kieran Hardy; Rhys Webb; Lloyd Williams
Fly-halves: Dan Biggar; Rhys Patchell; Callum Sheedy
Centers: Jonathan Davies; Nick Thompkins; Owen Watkin; Johnny Williams
Wings: Josh Adams; Jonah Holmes; George North; Louis Rees-Zammit
Fullbacks: Leigh Halfpenny; Ioan Lloyd; Liam Williams
The ever-reliable Leigh Halfpenny and fellow Scarlets teammate Liam Williams have both established themselves over the years as some of the best fullbacks in the world. You won’t find two better players under the high ball than these two, and each one adds their own dynamic element.
Williams is a game-breaker with ball-in-hand, able to unlock even the tightest of defenses with a bit of footwork and magic. Halfpenny owns perhaps the best kicking boot in the world, whether he’s booting the ball from hand or off the tee.
Something else you get from both players is defensive excellence and a willingness to put their bodies on the line for the team.
Williams could take up a post on the wing to allow for Halfpenny to play fullback, which speaks to his versatility and dynamism. Wales may be falling on hard times, but it’s through no fault of their fullbacks.
It may sound crazy, but at the moment fly-half is looking like a serious weakness for Wales. Dan Biggar has been a brilliant servant to the team over the years, but the change in style under Pivac has not suited the game-manager so well. Under former coach Warren Gatland, Biggar’s kicking and tactical play suited the style of play, but in Pivac’s more wide-open and ambitious system, Biggar lacks the attacking prowess to make it work.
The loss of Gareth Anscombe to an ACL injury last year is still impacting the team today, as he is a very skilled and dynamic option at 10 who would thrive under Pivac. There is no real timetable for his return, meaning other players will need to step into his shoes.
Many are excited about the prospects of Bristol fly-half Callum Sheedy, who could make his first international appearance for Wales in this Autumn Nations Cup.
Make no bones about it, Wales need to start picking up some wins. Turbulent times for the union lay ahead, and poor results at the international level will only make those waters even choppier. Wales are going to have to get through both Ireland and England in Pool A of the Autumn Nations Cup; it’s a tough ask but they’re certainly capable.
If there’s anything to be optimistic about, it’s that three of Wales’ past four games have been decided by four points or less, so they’re not far off. It’s going to come down to those decisive moments in the close games, and Wales will need to own them in the coming month. Should they be able to do that, expect the Welsh to see a revival heading into 2021.
Wales vs Ireland | Nov. 13 | 2:00 pm ET
Wales vs Georgia | Nov. 21 | 12:15 pm ET
Wales vs England | Nov. 28 | 11:00 am ET
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