Wales have consistently been one of the most successful Six Nations sides in recent years, but could now be the time to consider a change?
Whilst they are usually there or there abouts when it comes to the annual Six Nations competition, and they came within a kick of making the Rugby World Cup final in 2011, they have remained somewhat stagnant in many respects. Their performances over the last two Six Nations have been good but unspectacular as they failed to finish about third place both times.
Their World Cup performance last year was impressive given the injury crisis they suffered in the build up to, and during the tournament itself, however was it good enough? Given they currently have one of the most settled squads in the world, with an incredible amount of caps, they still struggle to consistently compete with teams from the Southern Hemisphere.
The problem most people point to is that they have become very predictable. Their physical style of hard carrying through the middle has been largely countered in recent years, and they have shown little appetite for varying this up a bit.
There are signs the coaching team are looking to make changes having selected two opensides in Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric against Ireland last weekend. There were also glimpses of a game plan that didn’t focus exclusively on hard carrying, but as soon as it came to crunch time, the team reverted back to their safe play style.
It seems now that Wales are at a cross-roads. Do they continue being a force in Europe, and hope that the current coaching set up can find a way to compete with teams from the Rugby Championship, or do they make a change?
If they were to make a change however, it’s hard to see who should make way. In Shaun Edwards they have one of the finest defensive coaches in the world. He has made Wales a force to be reckoned with when on the back foot, and been one of the key components of their success in recent years.
Warren Gatland meanwhile has been the mastermind who took his side to within a missed kick of a World Cup final four years ago, whilst also finding a way to make it out of the ‘Group of Death’ despite have to cope with a hugely depleted squad due to injuries.
This then leaves Rob Howley, Gatland’s trusted assistant, and potential heir to the throne. Howley has helped build a Welsh backline that has been deadly at times, if not so much recently. He also seems to be a well liked member of the coaching team.
At this stage, it seems unlikely the WRU will make any moves, however should Wales fail to make any kind of impact on the All Blacks during their tour of New Zealand this summer, there may be some appetite for a shake-up.
It’s hard to see Gatland going anytime soon, however there may be some interest in bringing in a new attack coach who can help shake things up a bit, and add more strings to their offensive bow than the current crash ball tactic. If Wales want to seriously challenge for the Rugby World Cup in 2019 then this could be their only option.