Rugby Welsh Back Row for the World Cup And Who They Will Bring To Japan

Wales have one of, if not the most competitive, back rows in the world with some Lions struggling to make the matchday squad. Slimming it down to five or six players for the World Cup Squad and four or five for a matchday 23 will be Warren Gatland’s biggest challenge. In this article we will be looking at which players will most likely go to Japan and which ones will make a full strength Wales matchday 23.

First we will look at number 8. The reason we are starting here is that it’s the most straightforward. Wales’s starting 8 man will be Taulupe Faletau. He will be selected because he is a world class number 8. The reason he is world class is because of his work rate and he is very well rounded. His carrying is strong and makes his tackles. He is good at the breakdown both defensively (for not being an openside) and offensively. People normally don’t notice his work at the breakdown defensively because all he does is slow the ball down and rarely gets turnovers. Slowing the ball down is not as good as a turnover because the other team still has the ball, but it gives his team time to realign and get into optimally positions to defend.

Besides Faletau, Wales have a few other options at 8 but their other options are more like converted flankers in Josh Navidi and Ross Moriarty. They are good options, but are more like cover in case of emergencies, which with Faletau being continuously injured, has been happening too much.

Next we will look at openside. Many consider it to be the most competitive position in this back row, but there can only be one option. Its Justin Tipuric. He is second best in only a few facets of the game compared to the others and the best in the rest. If it weren’t for Warburton, Tipuric would have many more Lions and Wales caps. His work at the defensive breakdown is world class with him comprehensively beating both David Pocock and Michael Hooper here in their recent encounter. He is also a good lineout option and is probably the most skillful flanker in the world. He is just behind Dan Lydiate at being the best tackler on the Welsh team. While there are other very good options, but because of how good Tipuric is, if another one of the 7s hits good form, they will most likely play along side Tipuric.

Now to do a quick rundown of each of the other opensides. James Davies (Jonathan Davies younger brother) is a convert from 7s. He is quick (because of being a convert from 7s), skilled, good at the breakdown, and plays like another back. He can even play on the wing if needed, but would not be anywhere near international quality there. However, I don’t think Davies has enough size and if played would make the Welsh back row too light. Because of this I don’t consider him an option.

Next there is Ellis Jenkins, who is basically Sam Warburton 2.0. The reason I wrote earlier that Tipuric is second best in a few parts of the game is partially because of Ellis Jenkins. Jenkins is better at the breakdown defensively.  While Tipuric still makes more turnovers in a combination of tackling, stripping the ball in tackles, lineout steals, and other tricky plays, they are neck in neck in the amount of breakdown turnovers, but Jenkins slows down more of the oppositions rucks. This is what makes him barely better than Tipuric at the breakdown. He also has the rest of the classic openside traits like quickness, good tackling, good hands, a smart rugby brain, and so on.

Josh Navidi is the most physical of all these options, being a player that can cover all across the back row the best. He is good at the defensive breakdown but maybe not quite as good as the others. He is however a better carrier than the others which could help the balance of a team. He also has a very high work rate like the others.

Now for the big decision. Who partners Tipuric? Who besides the other players we already discussed? There are 3 other options. First there is Ross Moriarty. He has been playing a lot of 8 because of the constant injuries to Faletau. He is the best ball carrier out of all the options for blindside including the possible converted openside. He is a very strong tackler and is probably the most likely to make a huge tackle (like knocking a player back a few feet). He is ok at slowing the ball down, but is the worst out of all the viable options. He is the most tempered out of all these players and plays his best right on the edge. Just watch his against England in 2017.

Dan Lydiate is the best player in the world at the chop tackle. He has been out of the game for awhile with injuries (and is currently injured). Lydiate is not a very good carrier, but is one who will consistently go forward and is skilled. He is good at the unseen work. He rarely ever misses a tackle (he went through an entire Six Nations without missing one) and always makes quite a few (tackle count normally around 20). After Moriarty, he is the most likely to make a dominate tackle and will always make a good tackle. He is the second or third worst out of all the options at the defensive breakdown (depending on how you weigh a turnover versus slowing ruck ball down). He is good at slowing the ball down for not being a 7, and might make a turnover once every few games. He is also the worst choice for a bench player; because of the way he plays he doesn’t add a big impact off the bench.

Finally there is Aaron Shingler. He is the most skilled and fastest of all the options. He will make more turnovers than Lydiate but won’t slow the ball down as well at the breakdown. Shingler will tackle well and is a good carrier. He is by far the best lineout option including Tipuric (he is also lock cover if desperately necessary). However I would only pick him if you need to loosen the game up and get a bonus point or need a very good lineout option. Because of this he drops below the other options.

Now for the verdict. With Faletau’s and Tipuric’s spots assured it’s only a matter of adding the blindside. Because of how good all the options are they can all be useful. However there are different styles of play that would play to each of these players strengths. Lydiate is the choice if Wales mainly need its blindside to stop the opposition behind the gainline and stop big carriers. Moriarty is the choice if Wales need another big ball carrier to break the defence and someone to make big hits or get in the face of the opposition 10. Jenkins is the choice if Wales need to slow the other teams ball down and/or target them at the breakdown. Navidi gives them a mixture of the other three with good carrying, tackling, breakdown work, and skills.

If Lydiate or Moriarty starts at 6, Navidi or Jenkins will be on the bench depending if Wales will need more of a blindside type impact off the bench or more breakdown work. They can both cover 7 and 8 in case of injury. If Navidi or Jenkins starts at 6 it will be either Moriarty or the other of Navidi and Jenkins off the bench depending on what Wales need for that game, but more likely Moriarty because if Faletau gets injured it keeps some size in the back row. If Ellis Jenkins were to play alongside Tipuric it would not matter which who went on which side of the scrum, but if Tipuric were to play with Navidi, Moriarty, or Lydiate he would be on the openside. All these selections are also heavily dependent on who Wales pick at loosehead (Nicky Smith or Rob Evans), Lock, or centre.

So that’s who Wales will take to the Rugby World Cup: Taulupe Faletau, Ross Moriarty, Justin Tipuric, Ellis Jenkins, Josh Navidi, and Dan Lydiate. My current combination would be Lydiate, Tipuric, and Faletau with Navidi off the bench, but that is not accounting who Wales will play and the rest of their team.

Week 3 Predictions Of 2018 Six Nations Tournament

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France vs Italy

James: “France is proving me a bit wrong this tournament as they are playing hard and seem to be in every game. Though admittedly their defense did not perform as well in their game against Scotland, they should be able to handle Italy with no problem. France comes out victorious.”

Aaron: “Welp…its finally here…the Toilet Bowl. A match-up between the two least impressive teams (and winless) in the competition. I have to give this one to Les Bleus. Teddy Thomas has been one of the most electrifying try scorers in the tournament; especially with his brace of tries against the Scots. Weirdly enough he has been left out this week, probably due to injury. Even with out Thomas, I expect the French to gut the porous Italian defense. Italy has scored a few nice tries, however only when down by 20 or so points. Advantage: France.”

Ireland vs Wales

James: “Wales is getting back some key players in Dan Biggar, Leigh Halfpenny, and Liam Williams, but at the same time they will be losing Rhys Patchell and Taulupe Faletau will not be making his debut for the tournament. Wales played well in their last match, which was very controversial with a possible missed try call, against England. While I think this could be a really good match, I feel as though Ireland will win even if Wales has been their kryptonite the past few years.”

Aaron: “This has the ability to become a trap game for the Irish. After completely demolishing the Italian defense I wouldn’t be surprised if the Irish come out a little over-confident against a stout Welsh defense. Although the Welsh lost last week to England, they only surrendered 12 points. If they can play at the same level of defense and ramp up their scoring they could steal this game. In the end, I have to pick Ireland. They have been in top form and should win again. But, like I said, I wouldn’t be shocked if they dropped this match to Wales. Advantage: Ireland.”

England vs Scotland

James: “Will the real Scotland please stand up? Scotland looked like what we had expected from them before the tournament began in their win against France. But they also looked downright awful against Wales. Scotland will need to play their absolute best if they want to beat England. However, I don’t see Scotland pulling this out. England wins.”

Aaron: “CAN ANYBODY STOP ENGLAND?! The English have been proving that they are the best team in the competition. They have multiple playmakers in their back-line and some incredible forwards. Owen Farrell is an outstanding inside center with the playmaking ability of a fly-half. England’s two wingers, Anthony Watson and Johnny May, have been unstoppable with two tries a piece in the competition. Scotland looked to have gained their winning form just in time for this match. Even after giving up the early try to France, the Scots held on and eventually came away with the win. Greg Laidlaw is an absolute must-have if the Scots want to keep scoring points. Unfortunately for the Scots the wily scrum half won’t be enough to overcome the talent and depth of the English side. Advantage: England.”

Shamrock Thoughts: The Rugby Championship Expansion

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The Rugby Championship (or also known as the Quad Nations) is one of the best rugby tournaments in the world only rivaled by the Six Nations. This is genuinely looked at as the championship of Southern Hemisphere nations, but also many rugby fans think this tournament is with the best rugby nations in the world. I think there is some truth to that as in the last World Cup all four nations in this tournament were in the semi-finals. Plus it boasts one of the most successful rugby teams, but also one of the most successful sports teams in the world: The All-Blacks of New Zealand. They also have two other nations who are very successful as well with both winning two world cups each: The Wallabies of Australia and Springboks of South Africa. And with the Pumas of Argentina having a semi-finals appearance under their belt, there is good reason why people who are fans of these nations say this is the best tournament in the world.

That being said, as I talked about in my article about the Six Nations, if the sport wants to become more popular then it needs to expand. Yes, that even means expanding The Rugby Championship. It worked for this tournament when it expanded in 2012 from the Tri Nations tournament to include Argentina. While the results don’t show from within the tournament, Argentina has improved dramatically since joining as evidenced in the 2015 edition of the World Cup where the Pumas made it to the semi-finals. So how should it expand? By adding four more nations to the tournament. Those nations I believe should join should be Japan, Samoa, Fiji, and Tonga. This could help bring more intrigue and excitement for the sport especially in the Southern Hemisphere. And it also can make these countries improve at the sport by being exposed to seeing the best rugby that is played. The competition would get better too as more nations will try to send their best athletes to play rugby. Also it would help significantly in finances with television deals and a lot of other things. The other thing is making this tournament exclusive with no promotion/relegation. These are the eight best nations in the Southern Hemisphere/Pacific regions and nowhere else comes close.

So how would the logistics work? Well, as similar to how the Six Nations works, you play seven matches against the rest of the nations (one match per each nation) and whoever has the most points wins the championship. The current format has each squad play six matches (two against each nation). This would add more intrigue and one more match would be played so more money would be garnered for the tournament. It’s a win-win.

So what are your thoughts on it? I would like to hear from fans about this.

Week 2 Predictions Of 2018 Six Nations Tournament

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Ireland vs Italy

James: “Ireland grinded out a victory last week, this week they will be in cruise control. Ireland wins easily.”

Aaron: “Ireland…that was easy. Italy was gashed by England’s back line and unless they change dramatically I don’t even see this as a close game.”

England vs Wales

James: “Wales surprised me last week with a blow out win over Scotland while England beat Italy with no problems. If last week was an indication of anything, this could be a close one. However, I think England will win.”

Aaron: “Both teams are coming off dominant performances last week. Manhandling Italy and Scotland respectively. England is still the better team and I expect them to take this one with a bonus point. Should be the most exciting game this weekend.”

France vs Scotland

James: “France’s defense shocked me and surprised me. They might actually have a fighting chance against Scotland who looked like they took a punch in the stomach. This could be a great match, but watch Scotland rebound and take this.”

Aaron: “Wow…where did the Scots from November go? They looked absolutely flat-footed in attack against Wales. Despite most of the game being played in the Welsh half, they still could only manage seven points. France lost a heart breaker to Ireland with a last second drop goal by Jonathan Sexton. Going off what we’ve seen so far I’m giving the edge to France.”

Week 1 Predictions of 2018 Six Nations Tournament

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Wales vs Scotland:

James Rowe: “Scotland. Wales is too injured. But I think it could be a good game.”

Aaron Craig: “I’m predicting a Scotland victory against the Welsh!”

France vs Ireland:

James: “Ireland……was this a serious question?”

Aaron: “Les Bleus will be left blue after losing to Ireland in the opening round.”

Italy vs England:

James: “Injuries may seem to be the narrative, but England obviously.”

Aaron: “England will prove too much in week one.”

Previewing The 2018 Six Nations Tournament

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A year later and we are now back at it in Europe with the annual Six Nations Tournament, the 19th edition since Italy joined in 2000. However, there are a few new changes with it now being sponsored by NatWest rather than RBS and also now there will be live broadcast in the United States, which will be shown on NBC Sports Network. There always is excitement for this tournament, but this one might shape up to be one of the best and most competitive ones in the history of the competition. There are three legitimate contenders, but all the matches they will play against one another will be so incredibly crucial in deciding the winner of the Six Nations. Ireland, England, and Scotland look to be the front runners, while Wales looks to be on the fringe and with France and Italy looking to play as spoilers. But, even before it has begun, there has been a big headline as the top countries have endured massive blows to their squad due to injuries causing even some head coaches to say that another country is the favorite to win because their own team is so deeply impacted by these injuries. With that though, lets take a look at each nation:

England

The back-to-back champions of the tournament and one of the favorites. While this squad might be the most talented nation in the tournament, it is also the most injured. Injuries could derail it’s chances of winning it three years in a row (which would be a record). What it could do is give them a chance to see some possible stars in the making as they will get playing time, however, hope is not on faithful’s side.

Ireland

There is an article that says that Ireland is entering it’s golden era. While their 2015 Rugby World Cup team is arguably the best they’ve ever put out on the field, that just goes to show that Ireland could be a dominant force. They are incredibly talented, but they always seem to underachieve and are not quite disciplined enough to get the results they should. While dealing with some injuries, this looks like the most complete squad in the tournament and could be the winners.

Scotland

A surprise team last year, some are even picking them to win this tournament. And for good reason as this is one of the most talented squads they’ve had for a very long time. And the one good thing is that they are healthy and ready to go. That might give them an edge. They also have a high tempo type offense which could help them against the likes of England, Ireland, and Wales who are dealing with some injuries and inexperience. If they win this tournament, don’t be surprised.

Wales

This one is very unfortunate as they are incredibly injury riddled. Had they’d been healthy, this would have been a four nation race. While they could make some noise, there really isn’t too much hope as they will be using a lot of young players. However, with their track record, they might still be competitive because they still have a great coach and there still is lots of talent. It would make things more exciting if it was a four nation race

France

France are now on hard times. Many of their key players are injured and other ones had gone off to retirement, so a rebuild could be an appropriate term to use for France. They do flash some speed which could benefit them against some other squads that are dealing with injuries, but it is not looking very pretty for them. They will likely struggle in this tournament.

Italy

Even since they joined the tournament in 2000, Italy has struggled to make a name for themselves. There is talent there, but they seem to lack a big interest from the nation that is big into football/soccer (whatever you want to call it). They always seem to play tough in every match they play and might have a chance at beating out France for the cellar, but they will struggle as well in this version of the tournament. A time will come for them though.

Predictions

James Rowe: “I look at this as it could possibly be the best Six Nations ever to played or at least the best I’ve ever watched since I got into the sport. It looks like there will be a lot of hard fought matches between three or even possibly four nations in this tournament.  While I think Scotland has a chance I just don’t seem them winning it. My guess is that it comes down to the very last match which is between Ireland and England. With that being said, I think England is too banged up and that Ireland will win this tournament.”

Aaron Craig (main rugby analyst):

“England:
They are the defending champs and the favorite to repeat. A Grand Slam is very possible for this team due to their depth and every position. I expect to see a lot of tries from the open play. Even though they are missing Billy Vunipola and Elliott Daly they still have enough talent to overcome these losses.
Ireland:
This is the only other team that I believe has a shot at dethroning England and also nab a Grand Slam. Stifling defense and field position are the keys to the Irish game. Pair that with the best half-back combo (Murray/Sexton) and great open field running loose forwards and this is a championship caliber team.
Scotland:
SCOOOOTLAND!!! The Scots are back…I hope. The Scottish team has had a resurgence of late, starting in the November test ( a double over Australia and a narrow loss to NZ). Stuart Hogg is arguably the best playmaker in the tournament; and the Scotland back line has found their stride. They are missing a few key forwards so they’ll try to avoid getting bogged down and spread the ball.
Wales:
Wales or should I say the Scarlets? Seems like just about every member of the team come from the club. Should be good for team cohesion and I expect the play styles to be similar. Wales has been bitten by the injury bug and it could cause some struggle in the first weeks.
France:
What happened to the French team since I was in college? The flair and fire is gone. Add in a new coach and their will probably be a feeling out period. They are in for some tough times.
Italy:
Italy? More like Sergio Parise. The lone bright spot on the team. While they remain competitive, they are still the worst team in the field.
Winner: England.”

Shamrock Thoughts: It’s Time To Expand The Six Nations Tournament

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The Six Nations tournament is one of the most exciting sporting events every year. Six countries, England, Ireland, Italy, Scotland, France, and Wales, will compete for one of the most coveted trophies in rugby. This tournament has expanded a lot, most recently in 2000 with Italy joining, but it’s now time to expand it more, even with a twist.

Italy, while is deserving to be in the tournament, is ranked according to the World Rugby Rankings worse than one nation from Europe that is not even the tournament. That country would be Georgia (who are ranked 12th while Italy is ranked 14th). Georgia is becoming more and more of a force in the rugby world even to the point where they have absolutely dominated in the European Nations Cup having won nine of the past 10 tournaments. So it is about time for Georgia to finally join the Six Nations. However, it shouldn’t just be seven teams, it should be eight. The Eight Nations would be an interesting tournament as now it would take seven matches for each nation to play adding more intrigue to see who would actually win the tournament. More games means more interest and more money. However, what would add more intrigue would be having a promotion/relegation system for the eighth and final spot. How that would work is that let’s say Romania makes it to the tournament and then they finish in eighth, they would have to play a playoff with whoever the winner is of the Europe Championship. Then, whoever wins that playoff would play in the Eight Nations the next year. This gives nations more incentive to play harder and every match would be very important. It is said the tournament can’t go past seven weeks (which I think is ridiculous), but if every team played one match against each nation, that’s seven matches thus only being seven weeks long.

The other thing that would be beneficial for an expansion to the tournament is interest. If rugby wants to become more popular around the world, they are going to need to make things more interesting like the idea I had proposed. I was first exposed to the sport in 2006 when I made a trip to Australia and watched an All-Blacks-Wallabies contest. Three years later when I went off to college, a couple of my friends joined the college club team and I became interested (the next semester I joined the team). Because of exposure, I became interested. That would help the growth of the sport tremendously and if you include more nations for a major competition and make it more competitive, there will be more interest.

It worked with the now The Rugby Championship (also informally known as Quad Nations) which expanded for the 2012 version with Argentina joining Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa in what was originally called the Tri Nations Series. It has been monumentally successful as we saw Argentina making it to the semi-finals of the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Argentina became more interested in the game and that result in the 2015 World Cup proved that. It does feel like that expansion is inevitable, but how it will be done is a good question. However, what I proposed could make things more exciting and possibly more profitable.

If the sport wants to grow into another country, it has to build more intrigue. For someone like say is German, they are going to tune in more to watch their nation not only have a chance to win the European Nations Cup, but also a chance into joining the Eight Nations in the playoff and a chance to watch their nation play the top European nations like England or Ireland in one of the biggest tournaments the sport offers. While this will not totally help change the sport for the better, it will certainly help progress it. It’s one baby step at a time. If something like this happens, rugby soon could become very popular around the globe.