Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 26 November 2014

Wales in crisis? Maybe. . . but write them off at your peril

Once the recording button had been hit there was always going to be a storm brewing from Jim Telfer’s words.



Now that Wales have been dubbed “lazy” by the former Scotland coach — in fairness he also gave England both barrels — you could already sense that the last thing Declan Kidney needed this week was even more motivational ammunition being thrown Wales’s way.

Not that the Welsh are in any way lacking in ‘getting up’ for another Six Nations but every little might just help as last season’s Grand Slam winners address the rather pressing matter of halting their seven-game losing run.

In many respects they already have the pallor of a squad fearing the worst and an opening home defeat to Ireland ahead of a frightening looking trip to Paris, never mind having then to go to Rome and even Edinburgh, could well see the Principality’s national game enveloped in even more darkness.

The injury list has been examined from all angles and there is no hiding from it. To go into the Six Nations without front-line locks Luke Charteris, Bradley Davies and Alun Wyn-Jones does not instil confidence, never mind that out half Rhys Priestland is also missing along with the dynamic Dan Lydiate from the back row.

And that’s not all. With Warren Gatland’s gaze now exclusively given to this summer’s Lions tour, interim coach Rob Howley finds himself having to somehow dig Wales out of the mire while not really having convinced anybody that he is head coach material.

Though the players have lined up to support Howley, you wonder how much of this was indeed down to sympathy for Howley’s situation shorn of Gatland’s leadership.

And then there is the less than convincing form currently being shown by those regarded as primary movers in the squad.

Sam Warburton (pictured) has gone from potential Lions captain to a player under pressure to retain his starting spot, as has number eight Toby Faletau, who has been a mere shadow of his former self, while even Jamie Roberts has seen his normally all-action performances fall into a bit of a rut.

Perhaps the continuing slump in the regions has had an impact with, as usual, none making inroads in the Heineken Cup and only the Ospreys looking anything like good enough to push for a PRO12 play-off. Fears are also growing that the player drain to France — Ireland take note here — is now having a visibly detrimental impact on the national side.

Both Gethin Jenkins and Mike Phillips are not the players they were since moving to Toulon and Bayonne respectively and the Top 14 has already scythed down Charteris, who is now with Perpignan while, worryingly, both Roberts and Lydiate are France-bound next season, with Racing Metro their likely destination.

So, there you have it, Wales are being overwhelmed by a crisis with no apparent end in sight. True, but you still write them off at your peril.

After all, there is still some serious raw material to hand. Adam Jones is back and a key anchor point to their scrum, while with Cuthbert and George North out wide they have power and pace to wreak havoc.

Phillips may be off form, but he is still potent enough to cause all manner of problems as can focal point Roberts, along with the excellence of Leigh Halfpenny.

Ireland must beware of a Wales in crisis and if there is one side which the Welsh have recently had the measure of it is the men in green.

Mr Telfer may yet be proved very wrong indeed.

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