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Mid-term Les Bleus For Wales . . . Time For Warren Gatland To Shake Things Up

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By Tomas Marks

With three rounds of the Six Nations gone and two games remaining, Wales are where they finished last season’s tournament – in fifth place.

Yet, despite losing their opening three matches, they could have beaten Scotland and England, they had an excellent spell of pressure against the Irish for 20 minutes.

Warren Gatland will have been encouraged by the workrate of his leader and captain Dafydd Jenkins as he is top of the charts in the championship for attacking ruck arrivals with an impressive 96.

He is also second in the Welsh team for line-out takes and tackles made and he will get better as captain with more international match experience.

Wales have managed to get 38 sources of possession from line-outs with Jenkins and Aaron Wainwright being the main jumpers with 27 takes between them.

Young Cameron Winnett has shone brightly with 37 ball carries and 262 metres gained in attack.

He’s the number one player in the tournament for most metres in attack, which is an impressive statistic given the quality of the other threatening runners like James Lowe, Monty Ioane and Duhan Van Der Merwe.

The point of difference for Winnett is that he is able to do the ordinary things, extraordinarily well at full back.

If he continues at this rate he will be in the 15 jersey for the next decade.

Another player who has stood out for Wales is number seven Tommy Reffell.

His defensive excellence, with six breakdown steals and the most defensive ruck arrivals in the championship with 43, is hugely impressive.

Aaron Wainwright has been very productive in the opening three rounds with 38 ball carries, 30 tackles, 12 line-out takes and a try scored against the Scots.

The resilience that George North has shown in adversity is an inspiration to all and it’s remarkable that he has achieved 50 Six Nations matches.

Now, he is closing in on Brian O’Driscoll’s record of 26 Six Nations tries.

It will be enthralling if he can get to this milestone by the end of this crusade.

After three games it’s evident that the squad is connected and competitive.

However, there are plenty of areas to improve upon if they are to get a double home win at the end of this campaign.

Unfortunately, Wales are currently unable to win the battle of the gain line with a limited number of ball carriers.

Realistically, the starting XV only contains two ball carriers of note in Wainwright and North, which means a world top four side, like Ireland, can contain a predictable Welsh attack.

Gatland could look to include more ball carriers and dangerous attacking players against France and Italy.

Nick Tompkins at 12 is a tenacious inside centre but he’s 26kg lighter than Jamie Roberts at his peak and he’s lightweight compared to Jonathan Danty, Federico Mori, Sione Tuipulotu and Bundee Aki.

Most centre combinations contain a centre with penetration and one who can create, the Scottish duo of Tuipulotu and Huw Jones being a good example of that balance.

Therefore, Wales could look to a North and Mason Grady or Joe Roberts combination.

Grady has been impressive for Cardiff but he hasn’t had any big moments yet in the Welsh shirt in his first nine caps.

However, I think he could cause carnage to a new French fly-half in the next match with his power, long levers and connection with his Cardiff teammates.

Despite only playing 36 times for the Scarlets, Roberts looks like he could transition to the international stage and deserves an opportunity to add to his one cap.

In Dublin, the Irish pack were colossal for the 80 minutes against Wales and every forward can pack a punch.

Not only is the starting team immense but they can take off Dan Sheehan, Tadgh Furlong, Joe McCarthy, Josh Van Der Flier and captain Peter O’Mahony after 55 minutes and bring on Ronan Kelleher, Oli Jager, James Ryan, Ryan Baird and Jack Conan to finish the match.

As a coach you are only as good as your playing roster and the Irish depth chart is mightily impressive at this juncture.

Gatland is a stickler for selecting the same teams but in my opinion he needs an additional back and forward in the next match to influence the team in attack and defence.

The most powerful forward in Wales behind Jac Morgan is 19-year-old back rower Morgan Morse.

He’s definitely got the X-factor and would be an excellent impact player in the last 25 minutes against a heavy French pack.

Gatland could use the South African 6-2 split and include Mackenzie Martin and Morse as finishers.

My other out-of-the-box thinking is putting Winnett to 10 and Ioan Lloyd to 15 in the closing stages of matches to get an additional running threat on the field.

Winnett has shown already he can create at first receiver and as a team you want your best decision-makers on the ball every three to six seconds in attack.

Gatland’s track record speaks for itself but I would like to see him develop his sub selections and match interventions, given the likelihood of yellow and red cards in matches.

The French match is going to be a mouthwatering clash on Mothering Sunday.

It’s absolute madness to think that Fabien Galthie is under pressure as coach as he has a 76% winning record in international rugby.

He won a Grand Slam in 2022 and in reality they only lost by one point to South Africa in that epic World Cup quarter-final.

France won ugly in Scotland, drew against Italy with 14 players and have played with 14 players for 45% of this campaign.

Their discipline has been shocking with yellow and red cards to Paul Willemse, Uini Antonio and Jonathan Danty.

Generally, no team wins with one less player but the danger for Wales is that France have a 91% scrum, a 90% goalkicker in Thomas Ramos, and are second in the charts for 0-3 second attacking rucks.

Therefore, if they are allowed dominance in those areas it will be very hard even for a resilient Welsh defence to keep them from scoring points.

France played against Italy without Thibaud Flament at second row, Antony Jelonch at six, Gregory Alldritt at eight, Antoine Dupont at scrum-half and Romain Ntamack at fly-half.

Collectively, these five players could get in a World XV and unsurprisingly France are not quite as potent without the big five.

Unlike Wales, the French have a golden generation of players in their arsenal and it won’t be a surprise to see the inclusion of Nicolas Depoortere, the Bordeaux Begles centre and France U20s star, in Cardiff.

He plays his club rugby with Maxime Lucu, Yoram Moefana, Damien Penaud and Louis Bielle Biarrey and this seems the likely choice given the club connection and absence of Jonathan Danty.

Galthie has an issue at nine as Nolann Le Garrec seems to provide a greater spark to the French than the 31-year-old Maxime Lucu.

Garrec has provided much needed freshness along with the mammoth Posolo Tuilagi and including youthful exuberance with Rolls Royce players, like Gael Fickou and Damien Penaud, could be critical in them gaining a victory.

It seems that Flament and Alldritt will be back in contention for round four which makes it even more challenging for Wales.

Whatever happens with selection, both teams will be looking to bounce back after a “middle of the road” start to the Six Nations.

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