Don’t rely on just kids, this tour will be tough
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
No token gesture: Gethin Jenkins merits tour place