Wales have had a solid but unspectacular year to date. 4th in the six nations championship (on points difference) would have left them a little disappointed, but losing the odd match to England and France is no great shock. Their warm up matches have featured two close contests with England with one victory each, and a comfortable victory over a rusty Argentina side. Wales will be hoping the standout matches and talking points of 2011 are yet to come.
The Welsh squad has been hit by front row injuries, with hooker and captain Matthew Rees ruled out of the tournament, regular loosehead Gethin Jenkins probably out of their first-up clash with South Africa, and Adam Jones coming back from injury.
They have quality in the second row with Alun Wyn Jones and a young but hugely talented back row, including the new captain Sam Warburton. Mike Phillips is a nuggety half back who will worry teams when on form, and in James Hook, Stephen Jones and new find Rhys Priestland, Wales have men for all needs at outside half. There is a good chance though that Hook will be used at inside centre to add creativity to the midfield, as Roberts and Davies can appear predictable.
Wales have plenty of outside back talent, with rising star George North’s record of 7 tries in 9 international appearances thus far added to the established stars Shane Williams, Lee Byrne and Leigh Halfpenny.
Wales have potentially the toughest draw in the tournament of the established nations; as well as the huge challenge of South Africa first up, their group includes Samoa and Fiji, two talented Polynesian sides who will be desperate to again show the world what they can do when they have a full squad and some warm up time. Samoa’s victory against Australia earlier this year will surely be in everyone’s minds come that group match. If Wales were to finish second in their group, as the world rankings suggest they should, then life doesn’t get any easier as a potential quarter final against new tri-nations champions Australia awaits.
Props: Adam Rhys Jones, Gethin Jenkins, Craig Mitchell, Paul James, Ryan Bevington
Hookers: Huw Bennett, Lloyd Burns, Ken Owens
Locks: Alun Wyn Jones, Bradley Davies, Luke Charteris
Flankers: Sam Warburton (C), Dan Lydiate
No. 8s: Toby Faletau, Ryan Jones, Andy Powell
Halfbacks: Mike Phillips, Tavis Knoyle, Lloyd Williams
Flyhalves: James Hook, Stephen Jones, Rhys Priestland
Centres: Jamie Roberts, Scott Williams, Jonathan Davies
Outside backs: George North, Shane Williams, Leigh Halfpenny, Aled Brew, Lee Byrne
2011 results (most recent first): W, W, L, L, W, W, W, L. 4th in the 6N.
Tries in 2011: 6 tries in 5 matches in the 6 Nations. 7 tries in 3 Rugby World Cup warm up matches.
Main goal kickers: Hook, Stephen Jones, Halfpenny, Priestland.