We’ve entered a massive year for Welsh rugby with the Six Nations on the horizon and the World Cup kicking off in Japan next September.
Optimism is high that Warren Gatland can sign off his reign as Wales coach with at least one trophy.
The preparation has started in earnest and there will be plenty of twists and turns – as always with the unpredictable world of Welsh rugby.
Here are some of the early headlines we reckon you might be reading about before the month of January is even out…
AARON WAINWRIGHT MAKES WALES SIX NATIONS BOW
Not many rugby fans had heard of the former Cardiff City Academy midfielder at the start of last season.
But an injury crisis at the Dragons saw him thrust into the limelight when he was handed a shock rugby debut.
The 21-year-old flanker has got better and better, being capped by Wales in Argentina last June and shining during autumn victories oner Tonga and South Africa.
He’s also starred during the festive derbies in the Guinness PRO14 and Gatland is a big fan.
With Wales having major injury concerns in the back-row, Wainwright could be named to face France in Paris in the Six Nations opener.
Aaron Shingler and Ellis Jenkins have already been ruled out of the tournament while there are worries over Ross Moriarty (concussion), Dan Lydiate (elbow), Ollie Griffiths (knee) and James Davies (foot).
LEIGH HALFPENNY TO MISS START OF SIX NATIONS
The Wales and Lions full-back is to see a specialist about the concussion which has ruled him out for two months.
Halfpenny has not played since November 10 when he was flattened by a tackle from Australia centre Samu Kerevi.
Scarlets coach Wayne Pivac has repeatedly stated the west Wales region wouldn’t “risk putting him out there until he is 100%” fit.
Wales head honcho Warren Gatland has a similar view and would prefer his goal-kicking machine to be fully fit for the World Cup than come back too early and have further problems.
LIAM WILLIAMS IS BACK WITH A BANG
With the doubts over Halfpenny intensifying, the fitness of Williams has become paramount.
The Lions full-back or wing, who scored a stunning brace of tries in November’s victory over Tonga, hasn’t played a match since wearing No.15 in Wales’ triumph over South Africa.
He has had hamstring trouble, but is back in the selection mix for Saracens against Sale Sharks this weekend in the Gallagher Premiership.
You wouldn’t put it past Williams grabbing the headlines with a five-star showing.
TAULUPE FALETAU ALSO GIVES WALES HUGE BOOST
The No.8 seemed indestructible but that changed last season with a worrying knee injury which kept him out of most of Six Nations.
Wales boss Gatland rested his key man from summer assignments against South Africa and Argentina.
But the 28-year-old, who has been capped 72 times by Wales, broke his right arm while on club duty with Bath and missed the November internationals.
His recovery has taken longer than expected but the word from Bath is he is near a return to action.
That will be music to Gatland’s ears with Faletau’s No.8 deputy Ross Moriarty still affected by concussion.
Faletau will come straight back into the side.
JOSH NAVIDI SIGNS NEW CARDIFF BLUES DEAL
The forward, who can play across the back-row, is ‘Mr Blues’ for he’s been arguably the region’s most consistent and reliable performer since breaking into the first team years ago.
The Blues without Navidi would be unthinkable and the Wales international is likely to give them a boost by committing to a fresh contract at the Arms Park very soon.
EDDIE JONES PICKS WALES UNDER-20 STAR
Alex Dombrandt is the back row giant who played for Wales Under-20s and was signed by Harlequins this season from Cardiff Met.
England supporters, pundits and commentators have got excited by the startling Gallagher Premiership displays of the 6ft 4in and 19st No.8 who was nicknamed ‘The DOMinator’ by his student pals in the Welsh capital.
He is from London, but represented Wales Under-20s because he was a Cardiff-based scholar at the time and Six Nations rules allow for resident students to be picked.
England coach Eddie Jones has been monitoring Dombrandt’s performances for Quins and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he picks him for the Six Nations. Quality cover for the injury-prone Billy Vunipola at the back of the scrum is thin on the ground.
THE OSPREYS ARE WALES’ SOLE SURVIVORS IN EUROPE
The Liberty Stadium outfit is the only Welsh region in with a chance of reaching the quarter-finals.
The Scarlets and Cardiff Blues have already bombed out of the Champions Cup and the Dragons from the second-tier Challenge Cup.
But a home victory over Worcester Warriors and success at Pau would see the Ospreys top Pool Two.
A runner-up finish could also put them through although there may be a dramatic three-way scrap to progress in the final round of matches if Pau win at bottom of the table Stade Francais next time out.
THE DRAGONS DELAY ON APPOINTING A NEW COACH
First it was going to be Shaun Edwards taking over as head coach on a caretaker basis until the end of the season following the departure of Bernard Jackman.
But that fell through when Wales defence chief Edwards pulled out with the Dragons then saying they intended to instead appoint a permanent successor.
However, forwards coach Ceri Jones has done a sterling job as caretaker boss, taking Cardiff Blues to the wire and masterminding a first win over a Welsh region in the league for four years with success against the Ospreys last Sunday.
If they can man up against the injury-sticken Scarlets in Llanelli on Saturday, you wouldn’t gamble against the Gwent region shelving plans to bring in someone from the outside and keeping former Wales prop Jones in charge until the end of the campaign.
NEATH CANCEL MORE GAMES
The crisis outfit this week pulled out of the Welsh Cup and the future of one of Wales’ historic top clubs is shrouded in uncertainty.
Players have left in droves while coach Simon King also stood down over with matches against Bedwas, RGC 1404 and Pontypool called off because they have been unable to raise a side.
Neath escaped a winding up petition last month and owner Mike Cuddy has said he is prepared to hand over the club.
However, they face a Welsh Rugby Union hearing next Tuesday over the postponement of fixtures with a verdict expected the following day.
PONTYPOOL MARCH ON
They’re running away with the National Championship with a 19-point lead over Ystrad Rhondda.
And the eyes of the Pooler management and their supporters is already on an end of season play-off for promotion to the Principality Premiership.
GATLAND DROPS A SIX NATIONS GRENADE
We don’t know what this will be, hence the vagueness of the headline.
But the Six Nations launch is to be held at the Hurlingham Club in London on Janiary 23.
And Gatland being Gatland, he is bound to chuck in a grenade he knows will make headlines as the mind games begin ahead of the most eagerly awaited Six Nations in years.
Will it be designed to get under the skin of England boss Eddie Jones? Will it be directed at Ireland – each have been Gatland targets before?
Not sure. But if it doesn’t happen, that’ll almost make headlines in its own right!
Fair to say we can expect something.
Source link : https://www.walesonline.co.uk/sport/rugby/rugby-news/welsh-rugby-headlines-you-can-15629189
Publish date : 2019-01-04 15:30:00