RWC 2015 preview: The lowdown on Wales

All four countries have had their dramas in the build-up. Chris Hewett assesses who will best shrug off  the woe

Wales' Lock Alun Wyn Jones (C) wins the ball in a lineout during the Six Nations international rugby union match between Wales and Scotland at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff (AFP)
Wales' Lock Alun Wyn Jones (C) wins the ball in a lineout during the Six Nations international rugby union match between Wales and Scotland at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff (AFP)

Wales head into the tournament significantly weaker than they had a right to expect. No Leigh Halfpenny at full-back or Jonathan Davies at outside centre. No Rhys Webb at scrum-half. Injuries can hurt an entire rugby nation, not just the players who suffer them. But they may yet be good enough to find a way into the knockout phase.

Whisper it quietly, but with Liam Williams in the No 15 position, the Welsh attacking game is likely to be more vibrant than anything seen when Halfpenny is on the field. The possibility of running George North in midfield, alongside the ultra-direct Jamie Roberts, clearly has something going for it (that something having more “beast” than “beauty” in its nature). The return of the supremely combative Mike Phillips to the squad in place of the stricken Webb could conceivably be profitable, not least because Phillips will feel he has a point to make.

If their most important pool game turns out to be the one against England at Twickenham on 26 September – and they will surely have identified it as such, for they cannot find a way of beating Australia for love nor money – Wales will cross the Severn Bridge with a degree of confidence. Rather like the Wallabies, they assume they will prevail over the English if they can achieve parity or better up front. And it is up front, particularly in the back five of the pack, where the Welsh look competitive.

On his day – and he has a lot of them – Alun Wyn Jones is the finest lock forward in Europe. Indeed, it is perfectly reasonable to argue that he would find a place in any Test side in the world: yes, even for the Springboks, who have serious second-rowers coming out of their cauliflower ears. Alongside him, Wales will probably play Luke Charteris, whose ascents to grandeur may be less frequent, but are no less impressive when they happen.

And who is to say that, between them, the Welsh back-rowers will not make England bleed in the loose? Warren Gatland, a coach who knows how to apply his fat front-rower’s thumbs to the hosts’ pressure points, has options in this department – the nuclear one being the combining of two open-side flankers, Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric, in the same unit.

The lowdown on:
England
Ireland
Scotland

For months on end, the conventional argument has run like this: Wales will be dangerous, particularly from the English perspective, if they put their best XV on the field. That theory is dangerous in itself. Just because the best is no longer available to them, Wales have not been rendered impotent. They have no particular fear of Twickenham and they play Fiji, their bêtes noires, on home soil – an advantage they should not have, but that’s another story.

Halfpenny is the world’s outstanding goal-kicker, so it stands to reason that any side in the world would feel the lack of him. But of all countries on God’s rugby earth, Wales know there is more than one way of skinning a cat.

SQUAD

Forwards T Francis, P James, A Jarvis, G Jenkins, S Lee, S Baldwin, K Owens, J Ball, L Charteris, B Davies, D Day, A W Jones, T Faletau, J King, D Lydiate, R Moriarty, J Tipuric, S Warburton.

Backs G Davies, M Phillips, Lloyd Williams, D Biggar, R Priestland, C Allen, J Roberts, S Williams, H Amos, A Cuthbert, M Morgan, G North, Liam Williams.

Strengths

Hardened tournament experience

Weakness

Down to the bare bones because of injury

Main man

Alun Wyn Jones

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