The only way is forward for Hansen

Jonathan Davies
Sunday 17 November 2013 02:26

Welsh hopes that the national team can brighten up the gloom cast by club performances in the first couple of months of the season depend on coach Steve Hansen's ability to build a side over the next three weeks.

Games against Romania, Fiji and Canada offer an ideal opportunity for Hansen to explore and experiment in preparation for Wales's big autumn test against New Zealand at the Millennium Stadium on 23 November.

This is a fixture no Welsh rugby supporter can think about without a shudder, but I believe Wales can use this concentrated series of matches to bolster the confidence of players who wouldn't exactly be high on self-belief at the moment.

Not that Wales should see the next three matches purely as preparation. The weakness of Romania is not likely to cause them any problems, but Fiji and Canada certainly could and they are both potential banana skins if they are not taken seriously.

Where I do see a glimmer of light is that suddenly the prospect of a decent pack is starting to emerge. This is mainly thanks to Pontypridd, whose progress over the past year has been substantial. If we can assemble a pack of forwards who can compete then we can make the most of the threat our pace can pose from behind.

There are a few permutations that need to be tried up front but I expect the Ponty-pridd front five to be well represented and I would certainly find a place for Martyn Madden, even if it is on the bench. The Llanelli prop has been playing very well in European competition.

The selection of Colin Charvis as captain of the autumn internationals is a bold move, but it must be remembered that he performed the role well in the two Tests on the summer tour of South Africa, and it helps to lift the pressure on Scott Quinnell.

In fact, I would go further and play Charvis at No. 8, certainly for the first couple of games, to allow Quinnell to stay out of the fray and conserve his strength for a little longer. Martyn Williams and Michael Owen could then start as the flankers.

When Hansen announced his squad last week he said he was not naming any wingers. He said that he wanted the players concerned to think of themselves as a trio of full-backs. "Wings tend to put picket fences around themselves and not work as a trio with the full-back. That has to change," he said.

Perhaps that's what professionalism has done to players. They no longer think for themselves but have to be told what used to be obvious.

In the past, wingers considered themselves as part of a back three joined as if on a piece of string. They were a unit, and defensively, when facing a kick, the blindside winger would move and the full back move across.

The same happened in attack; the back three moved in unison, and helped by creating overlaps or as decoy runners. Wales will probably start against Romania with a back three of Craig Morgan, Rhys Williams and Mark Jones. Brett Davey will consider himself rather unlucky not to be in the squad. He is one of the best footballers in Wales at the moment. He may lack a yard of pace at the very top level but he deserves a chance. Garan Evans, who has been playing well for Llanelli, is another who deserves the nod.

With Andy Marinos struggling for form, the starting centres will probably be Jamie Robinson and Gareth Thomas, although Hansen might like to take a look at Pontypridd's Sonny Parker, a New Zealander who has only just qualified for Wales.

At half-back I expect him to use the Llanelli pairing of Stephen Jones and Dwayne Peel, because they have been playing behind a good pack this season and that matters a lot when it comes to building confidence.

Iestyn Harris and Ryan Powell, on the other hand, spend most of the time on their back foot while the Cardiff pack struggle to impose themselves. Maybe Hansen will bring on Harris to see how he or Jones will fare at No 12.

Whatever formations he tries, I hope the players will grab this chance to show what they can do when released from what is largely a dismal club scene.

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