The 2015 World Cup was a tough one for Wales after their squad was crippled with injuries, but in 2016 and beyond they look set to bounce back, here’s why…
The one benefit of Wales’ World Cup injury woes was that it gave some of their younger stars the chance to play on the sport’s biggest stage, whilst other nations young talent will have to wait another four years before gaining that level of exposure. This kind of experience will no doubt help put some of Welsh rugby’s emerging stars in a strong position moving forwards.
In addition to the younger guys getting plenty of game time, there are still a number of established players in the set up with plenty of experience. Current captain Sam Warburton is only 27 and will be heading into his third World Cup by 2019, whilst there are plenty of other current stars who will be rapidly approaching the 100 cap mark by 2019.
Warren Gatland will be leading Wales into his third World Cup as head coach with pretty much the same coaching team. The playing squad also won’t have changed hugely, with just some of the older players making way for emerging talent. This means the team know what is expected of them and have experience of playing in Gatland’s system.
With more of Wales current stars returning to the regional game to sign dual contracts, the WRU can exert greater control over their playing talent. This means Gatland and his team can get more access to players, control how much game time they get each year and ensure that they are training in a way best suited to the national team.
With an experienced core group of players, and a number of others staking their claims when injuries have given them opportunities, Wales are developing some serious strength in depth. Although it’s unlikely to ever compare to bigger nations like England, they look to have more quality outside of their starting XV than they have had for some time.
With players like Leigh Halfpenny, Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies all spending time in France, there has been a great opportunity for key squad members to experience playing abroad, and in all honest play at a higher level than if they had stayed with a Welsh side in the Pro 12. This experience can be shared with younger players breaking into the squad.
7.Willingness to make changes
Gatland may be seen as having his favourites, but he has also shown a ruthlessness when it comes to players being past their best, and hasn’t been afraid to drop highly decorated players in place of younger talent. This willingness to adapt means players will never rest on their laurels and will be forced to constantly play to the best of their ability.