By David Williams
Warren Gatland has underlined the importance of patience as he nurtures a new generation of Wales international players.
Welsh rugby bid farewell to three of its biggest names – Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric and Leigh Halfpenny – in a tribute game that saw Wales beat Principality Stadium opponents the Barbarians 49-26.
Fly-half Dan Biggar stepped down after the Rugby World Cup, meaning that Wales boss Gatland has lost more than 500 caps-worth of experience this year, with scrum-half Rhys Webb also exiting international rugby.
— BBC ScrumV (@BBCScrumV) November 5, 2023
Influential backs Liam Williams and Gareth Anscombe, meanwhile, will be unavailable for the Six Nations this season as they embark on new club careers in Japan.
But fresh faces have already emerged – players like captain Jac Morgan, Sam Costelow, Dewi Lake, Dafydd Jenkins and Christ Tshiunza, who all have a World Cup in the locker.
And there are others who did not make Gatland’s squad cut for France who could be banging on his door sooner rather than later.
Cymru'n rhoi sioe 'mlaen yn Stadiwm y Principality 🙌
Wales putting on a show against the Barbarians 👊
🏴 21 – 5 ⚔️
— S4C Rygbi (@S4CRygbi) November 4, 2023
“We are pretty excited about some of the youngsters coming through,” Gatland said.
“You have got to be patient with them, you have got to go through a little bit of pain.
“Probably some of the symmetry between the (Welsh) regions and us hasn’t been the same.
“Unfortunately, we have probably used the national team almost as a pathway (in) that we have developed those players through playing international rugby almost out of necessity because we’ve had a weakness in some positions.
“Then, because they end up playing international rugby and doing well, they then go back and they start for their regions. We have sometimes got that wrong.
“It is just making sure we work together as the regions and the national team in terms of where we have got holes and developing players.
“I have long been an advocate of foreign players. I think they are good for the game, especially here in Wales.
“But I’ve always said we need to get world-class foreign players, and if we need to pay a lot of money for them then we should do that.
“Unfortunately, what we’ve tended to do is get middle-of-the-road journeymen who are 27 or 28, or even older, who have tended to stop the development of some of the youngsters. For the regions and for us, we need to get that right.
“We know the financial situation. We all go through some pain as a national set-up, but now is the right time to do that and then think, what could the picture look like in a couple of years?”
🗣️ "I don't think he gets enough credit for how good he is defensively"
— BBC ScrumV (@BBCScrumV) November 4, 2023
A year that started with Wales being riddled by off-field issues that unquestionably contributed to a dismal Six Nations campaign, ended through five wins out of six and a fourth successive World Cup quarter-final appearance.
The next World Cup cycle, culminating in Australia 2027, is now under way, and centre George North will be part of that conversation moving forward.
North, who has played in four World Cups, will be 35 if he makes the squad for Down Under, but he has already indicated that he has no current plans to follow some of his former team-mates into Test retirement.
Scrum V Sunday 🚨
Join us this evening as the team bid farewell to Alun Wyn Jones who was given a send off this weekend in the Wales v Barbarians game 🏴
📺 @BBCTwo Wales
— BBC ScrumV (@BBCScrumV) November 5, 2023
Gatland added: “He and I have had a good chat and he wants to continue being available at the moment.
“He has been playing for a long time – since he was 18 – but he does have that experience and leadership, and he brings a voice to us.
“He is probably more important for us in the short-term, and then it is whether he makes that decision on whether he can keep going on through another cycle.
“Next World Cup, he will be 35. Whether he can get that far or not, if he is going to try and do that I am comfortable with that. It is just making sure we keep talking.”
A new shade of red for Leigh Halfpenny in 2024 ❤️
Mae’r Crusaders yn hynod falch i gyhoeddi for y cefnwr chwedlonol o Gymru , Leigh Halfpenny, yn ymuno â’r tîm ar gyfer tymor 2024. Croeso Leigh! Edrychwn ymlaen yn
fawr i dy groesawu i Christchurch
— Crusaders (@crusadersrugby) November 5, 2023
Absolutely brilliant to see a New Zealand rugby team use the Welsh language to announce the signing of Leigh Halfpenny. 👏
Diolch, Crusaders 🏴 https://t.co/WFqDVvcsMx
— Peter Gillibrand (@GillibrandPeter) November 5, 2023