Year to forget for Wales with the World Cup looming

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Wales players in a rally after the 39-34 defeat against Australia
Wales players in a rally after the 39-34 defeat against Australia

So there you have it, the 2022 fixture list is complete for the Wales rugby team.

With a Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) review of the failed autumn campaign pending, there could be twists and turns on the training front over the next few days.

Wayne Pivac’s future is in doubt Warren Gatland is a target for a potential return in the near term.

But for the players, the international year is over. They will return to their clubs and regions until the Six Nations begin in February.

Over the years, Wales players have often reached a winning national set-up after being involved in struggling regional teams, but a 25% win ratio in 2022 for Pivac’s men shows that no longer is it like that.

The statistics are striking: 12 games, nine defeats and just three wins, against Scotland, South Africa and Argentina.

There have been three blocks of matches – the Six Nations, the summer tour of South Africa and the autumn series – with just one win in each leg and no back-to-back wins.

Wales started the year eighth in the world rankings and finished ninth.

But they are closer to Japan and Samoa, which are 10th and 11th respectively.

Not the preparation you want, then, 10 months before a World Cup where Australia, Georgia, Fiji and Portugal await in the pool.

More bust than boom

It was a year to forget with Welsh rugby often associated with a boom and bust culture, but 2022 has had far more negatives than positives.

the high? In July, Pivac’s side became the first Welsh men’s side to defeat the Springboks in South Africa, a week after they almost won the first Test in Pretoria. Those heady days seem far away now.

The low ones? In no particular order, being soundly outplayed by Ireland in the Six Nations and becoming the first Wales team to lose at home to Italy and Georgia.

Then there was a 55-23 hammering by New Zealand, before blowing a 21-point lead against Australia by leaking 26 unanswered points in 20 minutes.

Wales scored 20 tries in five games during their Six Nations title success in 2021. In 12 games in 2022, they have scored 22.

The most alarming aspect has been the attacking form they have shown, although it was probably the most impressive in the last game of the year against Australia, at least for the first hour.

Under Gethin Jenkins, the defense was one of the few positives during the Six Nations campaign, with Wales conceding just eight tries in five games, despite the reigning champions only finishing fifth in the tournament.

There were seven tries leaked in the three-Test summer tour of South Africa before 15 were conceded in the four autumn internationals, eight of them against the All Blacks.

Any reason to be cheerful?

Jac Morgan is congratulated by Ospreys teammate Joe Hawkins after scoring against Australia
Jac Morgan is congratulated by Ospreys teammate Joe Hawkins after scoring against Australia

It’s hard to draw positivity from this desperate year, it’s true, but whoever leads Wales in 2023 will have some tools to work with.

Wales have unearthed some young talent, with Pivac taking the number of new trophies handed out during his reign to 31.

Some seem born for international rugby, with impressive performances at different times.

Osprey hooker Dewi Lake, 23, excelled during the Six Nations and South Africa before missing the autumn through injury.

Leicester full-back Tommy Reffell, 23, was outstanding against the Springboks before picking up a rib problem against New Zealand.

That paved the way for the emergence of 22-year-old Jac Morgan, who was one of the stars of the autumn, after being left out of the squad that went to South Africa after being told by Pivac that s expand

Morgan produced an impressive substitute appearance in Argentina’s win before scoring two tries each against Georgia and Australia.

His virtuoso display against the Wallabies underlined that Morgan has the physicality and power to excel on the international stage.

Then there are the likes of Rio Dyer, 22, and Joe Hawkins, 20, who have shown glimpses of their talent, while Exeter duo Christ Tshiunza, 20, and Dafydd Jenkins , aged 19, have been selected in the last 12 months.

Old dogs life yet?

Ken Owens is Wales' most capped hooker with 86 Tests for his country
Ken Owens is the Wales hooker with 86 caps for his country

Wales have relied on some over-30s to get into the World Cup and there have been questions about whether France may be too late for them.

Hooker Ken Owens, 35, began the year recovering from a serious back injury and wondering if he would play again.

Owens has struggled strongly starting the four autumn internationals.

Flanker Justin Tipuric, 33, returned as captain in November in the absence of 33-year-old Dan Biggar, who has been sorely missed over the autumn.

Number eight Taulupe Faletau, 32, has consistently maintained his status as Wales’ top performer, although this year he was challenged by Dragons lock Will Rowlands, 30, who enjoyed a 12-month spell stellar in a losing game.

George North, 30, is back from a serious knee injury and has benefited from starting the last seven Test matches at outside centre.

Then there is the most distinguished veteran in world record holder Alun Wyn Jones.

Missing most of the Six Nations with a shoulder injury, Jones, 37, returned for the defeat against Italy, his 150th cap for Wales.

Jones was used as a substitute in South Africa’s three Tests and the defeat of New Zealand, when Springbok legend Tendai Mtawarira advised him to retire.

After being left out of the squad against Argentina and Georgia, Jones returned to Australia and proved to former South Africa prop Mtawarira and the rugby world that he still belongs at international level.

Jones’ challenge will be to maintain that standard for another year as he aims for a fifth World Cup when he turns 38 during the tournament.

Then there are others like Josh Navidi, 31, Liam Williams, 30, and Dan Lydiate, 34, who have been missing for periods through injury. Fly-half Gareth Anscombe, 31, also picked up a shoulder problem against Australia after an encouraging display.

what happens next

Most urgent is the review in the autumn, which will determine Pivac’s future.

A quick resolution is needed with just two months to go until the Six Nations opener against world number one Ireland.

Also, if Pivac is to be replaced – and WRU bosses already know – he deserves to be told quickly and not left hanging.

He is a decent man who has always stepped up when the chips are down. People have not always liked his explanations of his selections and Wales’ shortcomings, but he has publicly stood his ground with dignity.

While this review is the short-term answer to getting to the next World Cup, the WRU should also ensure that a longer-term assessment of how the governing body is being run is carried out.

These results have not happened by chance and are the product of the system in which the Wales team exists.

The WRU and four regions are to agree a financial deal to protect the future of professional rugby in Wales.

That should ultimately be the domain of WRU chief executive Steve Phillips, who must prove he can navigate the turbulent waters of Welsh rugby, along with a new chair to be appointed this week.

The job of acting director Nigel Walker should be to deliver a coherent, long-term strategy, which is currently sorely lacking, to help solve the problems of Wales’ creaking game.

Walker has been in the role for 18 months and has helped deliver professional contracts for the women’s game.

Their focus must now also be on the men’s system, to ensure that the results of 2022 do not repeat themselves, or even worse, become a regular occurrence.

Wayne Pivac Wales Results 2022
Wayne Pivac’s overall international record as Wales manager is 13 wins, 20 losses and one draw since taking over from Warren Gatland in 2019.
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