It was just last month on a rainy day in Cardiff that Wales sealed their third Grand Slam and fourth Six Nations title under Warren Gatland; but for a while now all eyes have been focusing on Japan and this year’s showpiece Rugby World Cup. The grand plan culminating in the Autumn, has seen Wales go unbeaten for 14 games whilst rising to number two in the World, all while blooding young talent and improving squad depth – an area that dogged them in 2015. Today, was a significant milestone on Wales’ journey – as they announced their 42-man World Cup training squad. For many, the season may not have finished, but they can now begin to look forward to what promises to be a grueling pre-season as they compete for the elusive final World Cup place.
There is a very familiar look to the squad that triumphed in the Six Nations, with the inclusion of some short-term injury layoffs (Shingler, Faletau and Navidi). There have been two uncapped players called upon, Blues Wing Owen Lane and Saracens bound prop Rhys Carre. Both players are said to have been on coaches’ radars for a while and have impressed in the development pathways. There are recalls for lock Bradley Davies (Ospreys) and flanker James Davies (Scarlets) who have had injury plagued seasons. While some may feel aggrieved at not making the cut – Gatland has stated his intention is to make tings manageable for coaches and medical staff whilst maintaining high levels of competition. Saying that, he hasn’t ruled out calling up players at a later date, especially those currently out injured, perhaps Ellis Jenkins’ and Thomas Young’s chances are not over after all? The situation of Toulon scrum-half, Rhys Webb, remains uncanged and he is unlikely to feature unless he can engineer some sort of situation that sees him playing in Wales be it permanently or temporarily. This squad still needs to be whittled down to 31 and there, of course, is still a lot of water to pass under the bridge between now and then.
The Welsh kick off their World Cup campaign on the 23rd of September against Georgia, which may still seem a way off, but their itinerary has been clearly mapped out for the next 5 months. Following a statutory 4 week break for all of the players, the squad will gather at their training base in Cardiff at the beginning of June, before heading to Feisch in the Swiss Alps for a two-week camp in July. This is a return to the venue used in preparation for the 2015 World Cup, which will see players training at an altitude of 1,000 meters and sleeping at an altitude of 2,500 meters; a methodology intended to aid recovery. Older heads will not have fond memories of the “beasting” they received four years ago. There will then be a double-header, home and away, against England before heading to second week-long camp in Turkey. This will provide ample opportunity for hot weather training ahead of flying to Japan. There will be a further double-header, home and away, against Ireland prior to the final 31-man squad announcement at the beginning of September. Wales remain hopeful that behind the scenes conversations will have proved successful in allowing the full release of English based players for their summer plans, it was feared that because of World Rugby’s insurance rules the Premiership Clubs will hold on to them until 35 days before the tournament kicks off. After what appears to be a pretty tough build-up, the squad will fly out on the 11th and will hope to not be returning until after the final on the 2nd of November.
This will be Gatland’s third World Cup in charge of Wales and they have always performed under his leadership. The extended training periods in the build-up have often allowed for more in-depth coaching and development as well as the opportunity to build a real team spirit –things that Gatland and his team are proven experts. Wales have never been in better shape heading into a World Cup and the building expectation levels are deserved, can they end Gatland’s tenure on a high and take home the ultimate prize in 6 months? Only time will tell.
Written by – James Jones