Six Nations: Wales can be unleashed by bruising back row and Owens may not be World Cup captain, says Warburton
Wales are in a tricky patch ahead of the 2023 Six Nations. They’ve got a new coach in Warren Gatland who is also their ex-coach, a third captain in the space of 18 months, and some exciting youngsters to test out ahead of the World Cup.
They won the tournament in 2021 but finished fifth last year, and it hasn’t been a steady competition for those across the Severn Bridge over the last couple of years. But Wales have always thrived on the unknown and will be looking to get back to winning ways.
Among their breadth of talent is a stacked back row; a combination of Welsh stalwarts and exciting youngsters playing in England makes for a selection nightmare for Gatland.
“It’s difficult because I love Jac Morgan, [Justin] Tipuric, Christ Tshiunza, [Taulupe] Faletau, Aaron Wainwright, Tommy Reffell,” former Wales captain Sam Warburton says.
“When we have played Ireland we have lost the physical battle. They carry off nine for two or three phases with good speed of ball, and you’re knackered.
“Watching games over the last few years I’ve been thinking we need hitters in defence, and we’ve missed them.
“Bringing back Aaron Wainwright, having Jac Morgan, big Tshiunza at 115kg at No 6 – that’s a domineering pack that you need. I imagine it [could be at some point] be Morgan, Tipuric, Faletau with Tshiunza on the bench covering the back row.
“I would love to see Tshiunza have a proper run. At Exeter, Rob Baxter has put faith in him as a youngster and I wouldn’t be surprised if Gatland does the same.”
Owens to lead?
The curious thing about Wales at the moment is that, although most of the playing personnel have stayed the same, there does seem to be a feeling of confidence within the camp.
One thing that has changed is the captain, shifting from Dan Biggar to Tipuric and now hooker Ken Owens.
The 36-year-old front row is the best in his position within Wales but the nation have fostered a leadership group over the last couple of years and they’ll no doubt be called upon over the next two months.
“They will have a plan B,” said Warburton at an event for Sage Insights. “Ken could well get injured before the World Cup. He’s 36 now.
“Not that I’m trying to make this about myself, but it’s a close comparison: I wasn’t going to be World Cup captain in 2011, it was going to be Matthew Rees. He pulled out with one warm-up game to go.”
On the eve of the Six Nations Wales remain an unknown quantity, but they undoubtedly pose more of a threat in their current form than they did this time last year. How they’ll perform, though, is anyone’s guess.