With the Rugby World Cup preparations in full swing, some difficult choices must be made by every head coach. None other than Welsh coach Warren Gatland, who has been accused of being reckless and stupid when he made his first cut of players from the Welsh RWC preparation squad. The biggest shocks so far has come with the dropping of three established and experienced British Lions, Mike Phillips, James Hook and Richard Hibbard.
The axe doesn’t stop there, we will see another seven players get their marching orders in the coming days, these may include established players as well. Does this make Warren Gatland reckless or genius in his selection?
You have only got to cast your mind back to the 2013 British Lions tour to Australia. When the rugby world condemned him for dropping the much established Irish centre Brian O’Driscoll, for the Welsh Centre Johnathan Davies for the final crunch match. This proved to be an inspired one as the British Lions went on to beat Australia 41-16 to claim the series.
It is understandably been a heart breaking time for the players who have been dropped from the squad, however, they have shown nothing but good grace and support for the players that are left in the training camp for the final selection, for they know an injured player may see them being called back up. Wales as a rugby loving nation and including some parts of the Welsh media, must now start to follow their example and get behind Warren Gatland and the selectors final choices.
With Warren Gatland not being afraid to make unpopular choices, every player including the established players had to play out of their skins against Ireland in the return leg at the Aviva Stadium last Saturday.
Any player who underperforms and plays badly will undoubtedly be one of the seven that will be released back to their club. People around Wales are speculating about the final 31 man squad. It is widely thought Warren Gatland shall choose a 31 man squad of 17 forwards and 14 backs. The squad shall be a mixture of youth and experience with one or two surprise inclusions. The youth and experience formula in the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand worked well with Wales narrowly defeated against France in a controversial Semi Final.
Wales, have two major concerns that must be addressed with urgency. That is the front row and who will fill the position left by the injured centre Johnathan Davies (Clermont). With Richard Hibbard being released back to Gloucester, Wales will lose some of the power that his brute strength brought. However on paper the pack may have lost a little power but has become a more mobile unit which will be needed in the RWC group A. This is why I feel Kristian Dacey (Cardiff Blues) will be included in the final squad. It’s widely believed that Gareth Anscombe (Cardiff Blues) will be included if fit. He shall be used as a utility player after James Hook failed to make an impact against Ireland in the recent warm up match. He shall also offer cover for centre, full back and at present third choice outside half.
Another talking point within Wales will be a certain, Alex Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues). Does he deserve a place in the final squad selection? Simple answer in my opinion would be NO! His lack of defence and wandering out of position makes his selection a no brainer. His poor defence allowed Ireland to score two crucial tries in Wales’s first warm up match and some would say a spectator at the Avvia stadium in the return match against Ireland.
One player that must be on that final RWC team sheet is the formidable Justin Tipuric (Ospreys). The super sub finally got the nod of Gatland to start the game this Saturday against Ireland and he did not fail to deliver. He must be in that starting 15 but will find himself being moved to outside Flanker, while Captain Sam Warburton (Cardiff Blues) taking the inside roll.
The young players of the squad are also worth keeping an eye on these include Forwards Ross Moriarty (Gloucester), Tomas Francis(Exeter) and Utility back, Hallam Amos (Newport Gwent Dragons). They all showed experience above their years and never once shyed away from contact. If they don’t make this World Cup, I am in doubt we will see them again in a Welsh jersey.
This is how I see Gatland’s final 2015 Rugby World Cup Squad.
Scott Baldwin (Ospreys), Kristian Dacey (Cardiff Blues), Ken Owens (Scarlets), Gethin Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), Samson Lee (Scarlets) Scott Andrews (Cardiff Blues), Rob Evans (Scarlets), Paul James (Ospreys),
Second row, Jake Ball (Scarlets), Luke Charteris (Racing Metro), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys), Taulupe Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons), James King (Ospreys), Dan Lydiate (Ospreys), Ross Moriarty (Gloucester), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys), Sam Warburton (Cardiff Blues).
Gareth Davies (Scarlets), Rhys Webb (Ospreys), Lloyd Williams (Cardiff Blues), Gareth Anscombe (Cardiff Blues), Dan Biggar (Ospreys), Rhys Priestland (Scarlets), Cory Allen (Cardiff Blues), Jamie Roberts (Harlequins), Scott Williams (Scarlet) Hallam Amos (Newport Gwent Dragons), Leigh Halfpenny (Toulon), George North (Northampton Saints), Eli Walker (Ospreys), Liam Williams (Scarlets).
Players that will miss out on selection will include:
Tomas Francis(Exeter Chiefs), Aaron Jarvis (Ospreys), Bradley Davies (Wasps), Dominic Day (Bath), Tyler Morgan (Newport Gwent Dragons), Matthew Morgan (Bristol), Alex Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues).
The return warm up match against Ireland last Saturday leaves us in no doubt that Warren Gatland is a genius. Therefore its time for Wales as a nation to board the buses, trains and planes and head off to Twickenham . The Welsh team selection is in the hands of a genius even though the odd selection shows a mad streak now and then.
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