The Rugby World Cup is just over a month away and while Warren Gatland’s immediate priority will be to ensure Wales perform well in France, there is an element of long-term planning within his training for Six Nations squad.
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With players retiring or moving to overseas clubs after the World Cup, there are likely to be quite a few changes to the Six Nations 2024 squad. WalesOnline takes a look at what the Wales team could look like at the end of the World Cup.
Liam Williams has already confirmed he will not feature in the Six Nations following his move to Kubota Spears in Japan, while Gatland is certain to move on from Leigh Halfpenny, who turns 35 in December. Both Halfpenny and Williams dominated the number 15 shirt for over a decade, and while both have been formidable servants of the game in Wales, it is time for some fresh blood.
Gatland included Scarlets player Tom Rogers and Dragons player Kai Evans in his World Cup training squad. Both are unlikely to make the finals, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a redshirt future.
While Evans is a great player, Rodgers is more likely to succeed. The 24-year-old’s style is not too different from the experienced Williams.
Rodgers is a very dangerous runner with a habit of getting past defenders, as well as Test rugby speed and an intelligent footballer. The Chefnaytin man has good positional sense and a brave defender, but his challenge is consistency and repetition.
If he can improve his game, there is no reason why he cannot at least be a serious contender to start for Wales in the Six Nations. In terms of striker, Louis Rees-Zammit and Josh Adams are likely to keep their places, although another option would be to move one to full-back and put Rio Dyer on the flank.
Centres for Six Nations Squad
Gatland is already looking to the future with three uncapped midfielders in his World Cup squad. Jonny Williams could be the answer in the inside center position as the Scarlets star has the ability to get over the winning line and is also an intelligent footballer, but injuries have halted his progress.
The uncapped Max Llewellyn, who left Cardiff to sign for Gloucester, is a player with a high ceiling and his size will help him greatly in his transition to Test rugby. Gatland also has Mason Grady, who showed glimpses of his potential during the Six Nations, while uncapped pair Keiron Williams and Joe Roberts have attracted attention at regional level for the Ospreys and Scarlets respectively.
Don’t forget the experienced Nick Thompkins, who has been the glue of Wales’ midfield since his debut in 2020, while George North will remain an important part of the team. At Test level, it’s not about individual players, but about creating a cohesive partnership in midfield, in the same way that Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies created an almost telepathic understanding. I can see Gatland possibly favoring a Llewellyn/Grady partnership, but time will tell.
Centres: Max Llewellyn, Mason Grady
Half-backs for Wales Six Nations team
Gareth Anscombe’s move to Suntory Sungoliat has ruled him out of the Six Nations, although the talented playmaker is still hoping to feature on Wales’ tour of Australia in the summer of 2024. It is unclear whether Dan Biggar will continue to play Test rugby after the World Cup. Cup, and it would not be surprising if Toulon required him to concentrate on helping the French giants regain their former glory.
If that happens, Owen Williams will remain Wales’ most experienced No.10, but even so Sam Costelow is the core player Gatland is likely to build his team around ahead of 2027. The Scarlets star has a very well balanced game, is a dangerous running threat, has outstanding kicking both off the hand and off the tee, while his defense is very strong.
But it was his game management and ability to solve problems on the field that put him ahead of the rest. Don’t forget Callum Sheedy, who could return to winning ways if he performs well for Bristol Bears in the Gallagher Premiership, while Wales U20 star Dan Edwards is a player to watch. Six Nations 2024 rugby fans can book Wales Vs Scotland Tickets on our website at exclusively discounted prices.
At half-time, the World Cup may well be Gareth Davies’ last hurray at Test level, although Tomos Williams and Kieran Hardy can be expected to become regulars for at least the foreseeable future. New Dragons signing Dane Blacker is a contender, but Scarlets Wales U20 number nine Archie Hughes has the highest ceiling of all.
Half-backs: Tomos Williams and Sam Costelow.
Front-row for Six Nations
It’s doubtful there will be too many changes in the front row, with the out-of-touch Nicky Smith and Gareth Thomas in a good position for at least the next couple of years, and Corey Domachowski and Kemsley Mathias for the future.
Dewey Lake has what it takes to dominate Wales over the next decade, while Ryan Elias and Elliot Dee will be on hand to keep the Ospreys player honest. This is on a narrow support where there may be some kind of transition.
Thomas Francis has done Wales a huge service since his Test debut in 2015, but he has signed for French second division club Provence. Pro D2 is a tough league, but is the standard high enough to get you straight into the Six Nations?
This remains to be seen. Dillon Lewis has signed for Harlequins and while he is formidable on the park, his performance leaves a lot to be desired. Montpellier defender Henry Thomas has a fantastic opportunity to make his mark during the upcoming World Cup warm-up games, but Gatland needs a younger hotshot like Kieron Assiratty or Sam Wainwright to break through.
Front-row: Nicky Smith, Dewi Lake, Henry Thomas
Second-row for Six Nations
It is quite possible that there will be some kind of transition here. Will Rowlands is certainly a prime candidate, but playing week after week in Racing 92’s tough top 14 could take its toll.
Playing in Wales gives the players the benefit of being looked after, which can be argued to keep them fresh for Test rugby. Gatland is a big fan of giant Ospreys lock Adams Beard, who still has a lot to give at Test level.
Wales need to add depth in their second row and it would be a surprise if Dafydd Jenkins, Teddy Williams, Rhys Davies and Ben Carter don’t get more exposure to international rugby. Fitness permitting, Rowlands and Beard should still be the Six Nations’ best players, but Dafydd Jenkins will be hot on their heels.
Second-rows: Adam Beard and Will Rowlands
Taulupe Faletau will turn 36 at the 2027 World Cup, so it is vital that Wales find their long-term successor over the next four years. Faletau remains one of the best free forwards in the world and is undoubtedly the first name on Wales’ squad list.
He is likely to remain the Six Nations opener, but Gatland could experiment a bit in Australia next summer, with Morgan Morris and Carwyn Tuipulotu coming into the equation. Wales are well positioned for the open side flanker for the next decade, with Jack Morgan and Tommy Reffell already top Test players who will improve.
It will be interesting to see what direction Gatland goes with his blindside after the World Cup. It is highly unlikely that 35-year-old Dan Lydiate will continue to play after the World Cup, although it is unclear what the position is of Ross Moriarty, who made himself unavailable for the World Cup after signing with French club Brive, who were subsequently relegated from the top 14. .
Of course, Gatland could have opted for the dual option of Morgan and Reffell at the open side, while he has put a lot of effort into developing Christ Tshiunza. But I suspect Thane Plumtree will be the long-term answer.
Plumtree has been extremely effective in his limited Super Rugby career, with sources close to the Wales squad telling WalesOnline that he was extremely impressive during the training trip to Switzerland. Plumtree is a physical operator who is very comfortable on wide channels while also being an excellent line operator.
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