Warren Gatland is five games into his second reign as Wales head coach and he will be acutely aware of the size of the task facing him if he is to turn around fortunes in time for the World Cup.

This Six Nations would have been a painful experience for a coach who is more akin to lifting silverware than battling to avoid the Wooden Spoon, but nevertheless this championship has served as an important building block ahead of rugby's showpiece event in six months time.

Some of the painful defeats will have outlined to Gatland which players are up to it and which aren't, while also underlining the areas where Wales are in desperate need of improvement if they are to stand any chance of making their mark in the tournament.

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I have been very critical of Wales' attack, but to the credit of Gatland and his assistant Alex King, they took a big leap forward in this area at the Stade de France.

They were far less predictable, there was more variety and subtlety in their game, while they succeeded in manipulating the France defence on more than one occasion.

But while their forwards weren't lacking for work rate or desire, they were blown away physically at times.

This is something which is hard to correct without major change in selection, especially when Wales come up against far bigger packs like France and South Africa. At least Wales couldn't meet either of those two until the final itself at the World Cup, owing to the lopsided nature of the draw.

Nonetheless, Wales do take on Australia in the group stages and are on course for a showdown with England's own juggernaut pack in the knockout stages.

Gatland will have to change some personnel up front and there are three players who would make the world of difference to this Wales pack; Will Rowlands, Cory Hill, and Jake Ball.

Dynamic second-row Rowlands was one of the success stories of the Wayne Pivac era and was deservedly named Wales' player of the season in 2022. The 23 cap international has been badly missed during the Six Nations owing to a shoulder injury.

Gatland simply has to have Rowlands available for the World Cup - but it's complicated.

Rowlands has signed for French giants Racing 92 and there were huge doubts over whether he'd be eligible to represent Wales in France. With the 60 cap law having recently been lowered to 25 caps, the 31-year-old should be available if he wins a further two caps in the warm-up Tests against South Africa, and England (twice). But, currently standing on 23 caps, Rowlands does need to get those games under his belt.

In his post match press conference following the defeat to France Gatland also said "there'll no doubt be some bolters" in his squad.

Could those bolters be Ball and Hill, second-rows currently plying their trade in Japan but who were an integral part of the final few seasons of the first Gatland era?

Hill's situation is complicated given the former Dragons and Cardiff star left Welsh rugby under a dark cloud after being involved in an unsavoury incident, along with two other men, which resulted in a woman's home getting damaged.

At 6 ft 5inch and 18st 3lbs, Hill would bring much needed physicality to the Wales pack while his athleticism and lineout prowess would also be of benefit.

The change in Wales' selection criteria for exiled players is timely as it has made Ball and Hill eligible for the World Cup.

Ball putting his hand up for Wales selection once again is a very long shot given he originally left the Scarlets to be closer to his family, who reside in Australia, and there is no indication Gatland is considering reaching out.

The fans' Wales Six Nations verdict: Have your say

But the 50 cap international is the type of second row Wales could desperately do with, given his abrasive nature and tight carrying game, while he was widely considered to be one of the best scrummaging locks around.

Elsewhere, it was very pleasing to see Dragons man Aaron Wainwright perform well in Paris after a few seasons of being on the periphery.

Wainwright has a different skillset to every other blindside in Wales, and is more of a footballer who relies on his athleticism and footwork.

But in my view Wales need more of a destructive number six in the mould of Ross Moriarty or Josh Navidi.

Moriarty's omission from the Six Nations squad was a bit of a head scratcher given his no nonsense and physical presence.

Gatland will be keen to see Navidi fit again given how influential the Cardiff man was during the Six Nations Grand Slam campaign in 2019 and the World Cup of the same year.

Navidi was the unsung ace of the Wales back-row, the man who did the unseen work which allowed the likes of Justin Tipuric and Taulupe Faletau to thrive in the wide channels.

While Gatland got some clarity out of this Six Nations campaign, there remain a lot more questions than answers and he will need to think outside the box the closer the World Cup looms.


2023-03-19T14:28:37Z dg43tfdfdgfd