AFTER a fifth place finish last year and having not won the competition since 2013, Wales head into this year’s Six Nations among the underdogs.
Despite only losing narrowly to New Zealand and Australia, Wales almost came unstuck against Georgia in the Autumn Internationals.
Adding to Warren Gatland’s issues are the injuries to Sam Warburton (neck), and Jonathan Davies (foot), while Bath number eight Taulupe Faletau will miss at least the first three games. Faletau’s teammate Rhys Priestland has also been ruled out of the early rounds after picking up a hamstring injury in Bath’s Champions Cup defeat to Scarlets. Priestland’s deputy at fly-half Dan Biggar has picked up a shoulder injury and will miss at least the first three rounds, adding to Gatland’s growing injury list.
George North should be fit for the opener at the Principality as he is expected to feature for Northampton this weekend.
Gatland has named two uncapped players in his 39 man squad. 27-year-old flanker James Davies has been on top form this season for Scarlets and Worcester wing Josh Adams is the leading try scorer in the Aviva Premiership
Wales host Scotland in the opening game on Saturday 3 February at the Principality Stadium. The Scots were very impressive in the Autumn, being edged out 22-17 by New Zealand before triumphing over Australia. Playing the opener at home is vital for Wales, as having to travel to Murrayfield would have been a very tough ask.
Wales haven’t lost at home to Scotland since 2002, and although the Scots won the corresponding fixture last year at Murrayfield, Gatland’s men will hope that home advantage will guide them through.
Trips to Twickenham and the Aviva Stadium in rounds two and three will likely yield little reward. Wales haven’t beaten England in the Six Nations since 2013, with their solitary win over the English in that time coming in the 2015 World Cup.
After their comprehensive dismantling of South Africa in the Autumn, Ireland will be coming into the tournament expecting to challenge for the title.
The final two games of the tournament should allow Wales to end on a positive note, with Italy and a stuttering French side visiting Cardiff. Victories in those final two games could help excite the fans and shake off the malaise that currently surrounds the Welsh side.
Ireland head into the tournament as favourites. The highly rated 20-year-old Jordan Lamour is the only uncapped player in Joe Schmidt’s squad. The Irish finished runners-up last year and prevented England from winning the Grand Slam in the final round.
Last year’s champions England are second favourites. Billy Vunipola will definitely miss the tournament after suffering a fractured arm, as will winger Elliot Daly. James Haskell and Joe Marler are suspended for the opening game in Italy.
Scotland will be looking to push on from their impressive 2017 performances and are listed as third favourites. Their games at Murrayfield will be vital if they are to have a successful campaign, as proved by their emphatic 53-24 win over Australia.
France head coach Jacques Brunel has named a young squad, with 17 of the 32 man squad under the age of 25. This is likely to be a transitional tournament for France, but as they host both Ireland and England at the Stade de France, they could have a say in where the title ends up.
Italy won just once in 11 games in 2017, and have finished bottom of the Six Nations in 12 of the 18 years since they were added to the tournament. This is likely to be the result again, with the Azzurri priced at 500-1 to take the title.
Wales Six Nations 2018 squad:
Forwards: Rob Evans (Scarlets), Wyn Jones (Scarlets), Nicky Smith (Ospreys), Scott Baldwin (Ospreys), Elliot Dee (Dragons), Ken Owens (Scarlets), Tomas Francis (Exeter Chiefs), Samson Lee (Scarlets), Dillon Lewis (Cardiff Blues), Adam Beard (Ospreys), Bradley Davies (Ospreys), Seb Davies (Cardiff Blues), Cory Hill (Dragons), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys, Captain), James Davies (Scarlets), Taulupe Faletau (Bath), Ellis Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), Ross Moriarty (Gloucester), Josh Navidi (Cardiff Blues), Aaron Shingler (Scarlets), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys).
Backs: Aled Davies (Scarlets), Gareth Davies (Scarlets), Rhys Webb (Ospreys), Gareth Anscombe (Cardiff Blues), Dan Biggar (Ospreys), Rhys Patchell (Scarlets), Rhys Priestland (Bath), Hadleigh Parkes (Scarlets), Owen Watkin (Ospreys), Owen Williams (Gloucester), Scott Williams (Scarlets), Josh Adams (Worcester Warriors), Hallam Amos (Dragons), Alex Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues), Steff Evans (Scarlets), Leigh Halfpenny (Scarlets), George North (Northampton Saints), Liam Williams (Saracens).