Don’t rely on just kids, this tour will be tough

The Rugby Paper - - News, World Sevens Series - SHANE WIL­LIAMS

Wales’ Tests with Tonga and Samoa this sum­mer are vi­tally im­por­tant, but the two-match tour has al­ready turned into a sham­bles.

There are no TV rights sorted, no pitch to play on in Tonga, and now Danny Wil­son has pulled out of his coach­ing role along­side Robin McBryde. What is go­ing on?

For me, it’s all a bit of a shame. In the next few months we’re go­ing to find out a lot about the next gen­er­a­tion of play­ers Wales have to pick from, but off-the-field mat­ters haven’t got the tour off to the best of starts.

Robin is go­ing to an­nounce his squad on Tues­day and it’s ab­so­lutely vi­tal he gets the blend right. If it’s even slightly off, I do worry about Wales’ chances.

I’m a huge ad­vo­cate of blood­ing young play­ers and I want to see the likes of St­ef­fan Evans and Kee­lan Giles on the plane to the South Seas be­cause if you aren’t go­ing to give th­ese guys a chance now, when are you? That said, with­out some ex­pe­ri­ence in there, it could go badly wrong.

Just look at the Ja­pan tour four years ago. I ended up with the Lions – it’s still a sur­prise to me even now – but I kept a close eye on Wales. They picked too many young­sters that year and came un­stuck. It was naïve in my opin­ion. In the first game, we only edged home and then Wales lost the sec­ond match.

We can’t make the same mis­takes this time around, even though there are no prizes at stake. This is why the se­lec­tion of the squad is so vi­tal. Get it wrong, and the wheels could come off.

Robin is in quite a dif­fi­cult po­si­tion. Every­one wants to see the younger play­ers and those on the fringes in­volved. Guys like James King, Sam Davies and Owen Wil­liams were mainly on the side­lines dur­ing the Six Na­tions and will be push­ing hard for a chance to im­press.

It would be easy to put to­gether an ex­per­i­men­tal team com­pris­ing debu­tants and guys on the edge of the squad. For me, though, that’s not the way to go. There’s an old say­ing that there’s no sub­sti­tute for ex­pe­ri­ence and you need play­ers who have been there and done it. That couldn’t be more true now, par­tic­u­larly against Tonga and Samoa, be­cause those guys won’t be mess­ing about.

That’s why I think some­one like Gethin Jenk­ins – and Luke Char­teris if he’s fit – are go­ing to be vi­tal fig­ures.

Gethin has had in­jury prob­lems and hasn’t had much game time, but this is a huge op­por­tu­nity for him. He can only help the younger play­ers with his ex­pe­ri­ence and be a guid­ing light to those who haven’t been on tour be­fore.

I’m sure Gethin will be asking him­self if he wants to go. That’s a de­ci­sion only he can make, but what a tour it could be for him as he nears the end of his Wales ca­reer.

It would be no to­ken ges­ture if he did make it, be­cause even at 36, Gethin is still a top-class oper­a­tor. He re­mains one of the most phys­i­cal props out there, his de­fence is great, and his work over the ball is su­perb. Tonga and Samoa are strong in both of those ar­eas, so to have him avail­able would be a big boost.

Ul­ti­mately, though, Wales can’t ac­cept any­thing less than two vic­to­ries. We don’t need a loss – two would be a disaster – be­cause that would only fur­ther com­pound a hugely dis­ap­point­ing Six Na­tions.

I never toured the South Seas, and it’s a chance I’d have taken with both hands. I played against Fiji and Samoa at World Cup level, and one thing I know is how tough they are. You have to be very care­ful about the way you play against them.

What Wales can’t do is try to get sucked into play­ing them at their own game. Try to throw the ball around and run it from be­hind your own line, and things are only go­ing to end one way. The Pa­cific Is­lan­ders will prey on your mis­takes, that’s when you can get frus­trated, and if that hap­pens you’re in for a long, long day at the of­fice.

This is when the ex­pe­ri­ence comes in that I’ve talked about in play­ing tac­ti­cally, kick­ing to the cor­ners, and en­sur­ing you’re on top ter­ri­to­ri­ally.

One big thing for Robin to con­sider is who to make cap­tain. It’s not an easy one. With 12 of Wales’ big­gest stars with the Lions, there aren’t many ob­vi­ous can­di­dates but I think you have to give the cap­taincy to a man with ex­pe­ri­ence, but who also has im­prove­ment in his game to come.

That’s why I’d give it to Scott Wil­liams. He was un­lucky not to make the Lions tour, and will have a lot to of­fer. He ac­tu­ally has a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence in a young man’s body.

He’s vi­tal to the way Wales want to play, and he could be at ei­ther 12 or 13 this sum­mer. I also think he’s the sort of player who would only thrive on the ex­tra re­spon­si­bil­ity. Like Sam War­bur­ton, he’s quite quiet off the field, but on it he doesn’t mess around and will have the re­spect of the rest of the squad.

This tour is also a bril­liant chance to look at the coaches. That’s why I was dis­ap­pointed to see Danny pull out. I can un­der­stand his rea­sons and I ad­mire the fact he’s put­ting Cardiff Blues first.

But I really think Danny is a top oper­a­tor, maybe even a fu­ture Wales coach. This tour would have helped him grow.

It looks as if Robin will have Shaun Ed­wards and Stephen Jones along­side.

It’s not an ideal sce­nario, as I’d like to have seen both Danny and Steve Tandy cut their teeth at in­ter­na­tional level for the fu­ture good of Welsh rugby.

But as long as Wales get things right with their squad se­lec­tion, I can see us win­ning both matches.

Over to you, Robin.

“Look at the tour to Ja­pan four years ago, they picked too many young­sters and came un­stuck

PIC­TURE: Getty Images

No to­ken ges­ture: Gethin Jenk­ins mer­its tour place

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