WITH new coaches in charge of Wales, Ireland, France, and Italy, there’s an air of change about this year’s Six Nations competition.
Only Eddie Jones and – for now – Gregor Townsend remain at the helm of their countries’ sides from last year.
Wayne Pivac, the former Scarlets coach, takes charge of Wales following Warren Gatland’s retirement. He has very big shoes to fill and his task is not made any easier by the failure of the WRU to retain the services of key backroom staff member Shaun Edwards.
There are five uncapped players in Wales’ 34-member squad for the tournament: Louis Rees-Zammit, Johnny McNicholl, Nick Tompkins, WillGriff John and Will Rowlands.
Rhys Webb also gained a recall having signed a contract with Ospreys following two years with Toulon which ruled him out of the Test arena.
It’s also a welcome return for prop Rob Evans, from Spittal, who was left out of Wales World Cup squad to widespread astonishment. Evans is a strong scrummager and powerful in the loose. He has been in destructive form on the loose-head side for Scarlets this season alongside his Welsh teammate Ken Owens.
Absent are the long-term injured Gareth Anscombe, Jonathan Davies, and Tomos Francis.
The absence of Jonathan Davies is likely to be keenly felt in midfield. While Owen Watkins is making a faster than expected recovery from his injury, Wales will need to reshuffle their settled three-quarter line which shone in the Rugby World Cup.
Among the options Wales are considering to replace their midfield general is moving George North inside from the wing to provide a physical presence and a different threat than the injured Lions centre.
Louis Rees-Zammit, the Gloucester winger, is one to watch out for; if he gets on the pitch, he’ll be the large red blur charging at the Italian defence. The eighteen-year-old flyer has been compared to George North in terms of size, speed, and predatory scoring ability. Despite representing Wales at U18 level, the Cardiff-born winger attended Gloucester’s rugby academy to fit in with his education at Hartpury College. Rumours that Eddie Jones tried to tempt him over to the dark side were quickly squashed when Rees-Zammitt was selected in the Wales senior squad.
At full-back, with Liam Williams ruled out of this weekend’s Italy game, Leigh Halfpenny is almost nailed on to start. The Scarlets number 15 has been in stellar form this season, offering threat in attack, solidity in defence, and reliability with his metronomic boot. His recovery from a serious concussion injury, which left him out of the game for a long period and ruled him out of last year’s Six Nations, has resulted in renewed determination from the Scarlets man.
“It only feels like yesterday I was one of the younger boys,” Halfpenny says.
“I’m one of the older ones now and it’s great for us as a squad to have fantastically talented youngsters coming through. It’s strengthening us as a team and there is a lot of competition.
“It does make me realise I’m probably in the latter stages of my career. When I look back on it, it has all gone so quick. It’s gone in the blink of an eye. It’s incredible. It’s always a privilege to hear your name read out for the Welsh squad and even though I am in the latter stages of my career, I’m still ambitious. I’m still hungry to achieve things, but I also want to enjoy every moment I have as much as possible at the moment.”
Leigh Halfpenny continued: “Last season the boys were absolutely outstanding. To achieve a Grand Slam was incredible and it’s now hugely exciting looking ahead to this Six Nations,” Halfpenny said.
“Our goal is to go and win the title again. That’s the challenge for us as a squad. We’ve got new coaches and management and that’s really exciting as well.
“It is a new era for the squad. What was achieved with the previous management was just incredible and the feeling in the group has been brilliant these last two weeks. The boys have come in full of energy and we can’t wait to get started with this Six Nations. Italy will be an extremely tough challenge. Both teams will want to get off to a positive start to the campaign. Having played Italy you know they do pose threats and they’re a tough team to crack. We’re going to have to be at our best to do that both in attack and defence. We want to get our Six Nations campaign off to the start we want which is with a win.”
Former Scarlets head coach Wayne Pivac is the man tasked with filling the boots of fellow New Zealander Warren Gatland, who steered Wales to three grand slams and two World Cup semi-final appearances during his 12-year reign.
“The guys have been made aware of the style of game we want and the positional and role specifics they will have to play,” says Pivac.
“The expectation is we are going to move a bit more ball and what I’m seeing at the moment is a great reaction. We’ve got a good vibe in the group and if the training sessions are anything to go by, we’ve got guys putting their hands up to take to the field.”
Pivac continued: “The boys had a fantastic competition to win the Grand Slam last year. History says this year is going to be tough with England and Ireland away, but that’s the challenge.
“That’s what motivates the best players and coaches. We think we have a draw that lends itself to us building into the competition. With no disrespect to any opponent, I think it’s nice we’ve got a home game to kick it off and you can certainly sense there is a bit of excitement.
“We are going to evolve our attack and that will take a bit of time. It took a bit of time with the Scarlets and I’m sure it will be no different at an international level, except we have got a higher calibre of player to work with across the board.”
Wales haven’t lost to Italy since 2007 and the Azzurri have never won in Cardiff since joining the Six Nations. The 2020 tournament will be their 21st season in the Championship.
Italy are now coached by Franco Smith and captained by hooker Luca Bigi with Sergio Parisse – who has skippered the team for so long – absent for the Cardiff clash.
“I think there will be a lot of continuity. I think Wayne is very smart in the way he goes about things,” said Smith.
“He spent five years in Wales – there’s a reason why they’ve appointed him after Warren. It’s going to be again a big physical challenge, but I do think they will bring a bit of an attacking edge. The style Wayne played at the Scarlets will be noticeable in the new approach.
Scarlets make five changes for European quarter-final
Johnny Williams and Sione Kalamafoni have been handed their Scarlets’ European debuts for Saturday’s Challenge Cup quarter-final against Toulon at the Stade Felix Mayol (8.15pm UK time).
Both summer signings are included in a side showing five changes to the line-up that took the field against the Dragons in the Scarlets last match of the Guinness PRO14 season.
Wales and British & Irish Lions full-back Leigh Halfpenny returns to face his former side, linking up with Johnny McNicholl and Steff Evans in an all-international back three.
Williams and Steff Hughes continue their midfield combination, while Wales scrum-half Gareth Davies has recovered from injury to partner Dan Jones at half-back.
Skipper Ken Owens, Wyn Jones and Samson Lee pack down in the front row and behind them Tongan international Sam Lousi starts at lock alongside Jake Ball.
In a reshuffled back-row, the PRO14’s turnover king Josh Macleod gets the nod at openside; Kalamafoni, who featured for Leicester Tigers in the pool stages of the tournament, wears the No. 8 jersey and Scotland international Blade Thomson has recovered from an Achilles issue to start at blindside.
On the bench, Ryan Elias, Phil Price and Javan Sebastian provide front-row cover with Lewis Rawlins and James Davies the other forward replacements. Kieran Hardy, Angus O’Brien and Tyler Morgan cover the backs. Morgan is set to make his first Scarlets appearance since joining from the Dragons.
The Scarlets and Toulon faced each other twice during the pool stages. A last-gasp converted try grabbed a 17-16 victory for the French side in November. The three-times European champions then claimed a crucial 27-15 win at Parc y Scarlets in January to ensure they topped the group.
Head coach Glenn Delaney said: “It is a final for us. If you win three finals in a row you win a trophy. We are that far away from achieving the objective we all set out upon 12 to 13 months ago. It would be lovely to finish it off the right way. Whenever you get the opportunity to play for a trophy you have got to be very respectful and take it deadly serious, which is exactly what our boys have been doing.”
Scarlets team v RC Toulon (Saturday, September 19, 2020; kick-off 8.15pm UK)
15 Leigh Halfpenny; 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Steff Hughes, 12 Johnny Williams, 11 Steff Evans; 10 Dan Jones, 9 Gareth Davies; 1 Wyn Jones, 2 Ken Owens (capt), 3 Samson Lee, 4 Jake Ball, 5 Sam Lousi, 6 Blade Thomson, 7 Josh Macleod, 8 Sione Kalamafoni.
Reps: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Phil Price, 18 Javan Sebastian, 19 Lewis Rawlins, 20 James Davies, 21 Kieran Hardy, 22 Angus O’Brien, 23 Tyler Morgan.
Unavailable because of injury
Rob Evans (neck), Rhys Patchell (calf), Liam Williams (foot), Daf Hughes (knee), Steff Thomas (knee), Alex Jeffries (elbow), Tomi Lewis (knee), Aaron Shingler.
Pembrey Country Park to host one of first post-lockdown events
CARMARTHENSHIRE County Council’s Pembrey Country Park has been chosen to host one of the first outdoor sports events in Wales since the Covid-19 lockdown.
Welsh Government has given the go ahead for three trial sport and culture events as part of its continued easing of restrictions.
Pembrey Country Park will host a duathlon on Sunday, September 6, with a limited number of competitors, although there will be no spectators.
The event will be monitored and will help inform Welsh Government policy on future sporting events as the country continues its recovery from Covid-19.
The council is working with Welsh Triathlon to ensure athletes can compete safely, with strict risk assessments and protocols being put into place.
Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths, Carmarthenshire County Council’s Executive Board Member for Culture, Sport and Tourism, said: “We’re delighted to host this trial event here in Carmarthenshire, and hope this signals a return of more sporting events in the future. Our teams are working alongside Welsh Government and Welsh Triathlon to ensure that the event is safe and secure whilst providing an exciting and challenging duathlon course for competitors.”
Trundle and Robinson are back for another season with Ammanford AFC
Ammanford AFC are pleased to announce that the Ex Swans legends Lee Trundle and Andy Robinson are back for a second season with the club
The pair helped Ammanford AFC to achieve a respectable seventh place finish in the JD Cymru South league last season.
The Supporters of Ammanford will welcome the news and will be hoping that they can go and watch their team once clearance has been given.
News6 days ago
Llanelli lockdown looms
News4 days ago
Llanelli becomes a Covid-19 ‘health protection zone’
News5 days ago
Local sailor taking on virtual London marathon
News6 days ago
Gemma runs 50 miles for air medics who attended her Dad
News2 weeks ago
Trade deal won’t benefit Wales
News2 weeks ago
The latest increase in coronavirus in Wales is ‘sobering’ says First Minister
Uncategorised2 weeks ago
WASPI unaffected by appeal’s failure
News5 days ago
NHS COVID-19 app launches across Wales