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Wales Need New Players
Posted Feb 03, 2011 by Shaun Edwards
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You really do have to give credit to Warren Gatland. The New Zealand manager of the Welsh national team has managed to avoid any significant scrutiny of his position despite the fact that Wales have only take two wins from their last thirteen matches – hardly an impressive record. You can see why they’ve found affection for him in the valleys: his verbal grenade throwing towards England in advance of their Friday night Six Nations opener against England was powerful in it’s Welshness.
Granted, it is hard for the man who brought Wales a grand slam title no-one was expecting in 2008 to be widely criticised. Unfortunately, one overwhelming problem is sneaking up on the Gatfather, and it’s not one he’ll be able to negate with defiance. The simple truth is that the current Welsh squad is in desperate need of a new blood injection if it is going to come through it’s current transitional process in a strong position.
Not that the Kiwi coach is unaware of this, and the fact that he is will be useful to Wales over the next year or so. The first main indication of Gatland’s awareness was the dropping of Martyn Williams from the squad. It was a move that shocked a large amount of the Welsh faithful, most of whom were big fans of the veteran flanker. As their most capped forward and one of their most skilful players, the non-selection was as sure a sign as any that Gatland is only looking one way: to the future.
It isn’t likely to be the last major decision that Gatland makes in a similar vein. Three rocks at the heart of both the 2005 and 2008 grand slam winning sides – Shane Williams, Stephen Jones and Tom Shanklin – are all likely to be leaving the international scene sooner rather than later. All are losses that Wales will feel: Williams, who turns 34 on the day that his nation take on Italy in Rome, is Wales’ record try scorer. Jones is seventh on the list of all time test point scorers. Shanklin is already Wales’ most capped centre and has already scored 20 international tries, levelling him with Gareth Edwards.
So what of the new blood coming through? The Welsh do have options, there’s no denying it. Sam Warburton, Bradley Davies and Dan Lydiate all seem very capable of performing at international level. Whether they can match the abilities of someone like Williams is another matter entirely. However, Gatland will be encouraged that at least the raw talent is there.
The next few years are inevitably going to be those of transition for this side. It will do them the world of good to gain some momentum with a good Six Nations performance over the coming month.