Italy are reportedly unimpressed by Warren Gatland’s “disrespectful” decision to make 10 changes to the Wales team for Sunday’s Six Nations match. Robin Davey is not enamoured, either, but for different reasons.
Warren Gatland’s latest Wales line-up raises more questions than it provides answers as the build-up to the World Cup gathers pace.
Sure, Italy at the Principality Stadium on Sunday may be the right game to experiment, consider options, try out new combinations and establish some depth.
For though Benetton and Zebre have improved considerably this season in the Guinness Pro 14 competition, Italy remain a pushover at international level and they have conceded an average of 45 points per game in the Six Nations.
But for all that, it’s difficult to see what kind of future a back row unit of Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau and James ‘Cubby’ Davies has at this level.
Fine against Italy, perhaps, as a mobile, marauding back row, but, surely, far too lightweight when it comes to taking on France next week and the bigger beasts of international rugby.
For Tipuric and Davies are essentially both openside flankers while Faletau, world class No.8 though he is, benefits from a weighty No.6 alongside him, a player like Aaron Shingler, Ross Moriarty or Dan Lydiate.
So, if Sunday’s back row is essentially a one-off, what’s the point when we are supposed to be building for the World Cup?
And while we can all appreciate the need for evergreen lock and skipper Alun Wyn Jones to be given a rest after his herculean efforts for Wales and the Lions, why not give a first start to Seb Davies rather than pair Bradley Davies and Cory Hill, both essentially front-of-the-line men?
Davies is a tall, rangy lock who has made a real impression this season and would have been well worth a start against the Azzurri.
No quibble with giving the back-up front row a start – Samson Lee is unwell in any case – but as in the second row there’s a samey looking feel about the centre partnership.
Scott Williams was ruled out by injury and, of course, Jonathan Davies is absent for the season, but Hadleigh Parkes and emerging young Owen Watkin are essentially similar types, tall and strong without a great deal of flair.
Surely, it would have been better for Gatland to carry on where he left off in the autumn and hand the position to the far more creative Owen Williams.
His availability for training may be a bit limited because of his club commitments with Gloucester but he fared pretty well there in the autumn series, an experiment Gatland now seems to have strangely abandoned.
And it always pays to go in with a specialist front line place-kicker. That role has been handed to Gareth Anscombe, chosen at outside-half ahead of Rhys Patchell – another mistake, in my view.
Anscombe does take the kicks for Cardiff Blues, but it’s a bit of a gamble starting without any of the Leigh Halfpenny, Dan Biggar, Patchell trio. The back-up to Anscombe is ‘Sanjay’ Williams, who is hardly a front line kicker.
Hopefully, though it won’t come down to needing goal kicks for victory against Italy. If it does, something will have gone badly wrong – which is unlikely against the Six Nations whipping boys.
Wales won handsomely against Scotland in their opener but went down against England and Ireland, nobly though they did perform – especially considering both matches were on foreign soil.
So, it’s essential, now Wales are back on home ground, they end the tournament with a decent double against Italy and France to at least restore some feel-good factor.