Petrus: Quo Vadis? Iēsous: Eo Romam iterum crucifigi.
Peter: Whither goest thou? Jesus: I am going to Rome to be crucified again (John 13:36).
Back to the future? There will be some trepidation in the Valleys as the Boyos wrestle with their bogey RWC teams, Manu Samoa and Fiji.
Pool D is the so-called Pool of Death. Manu Samoa fired off a powerful shot over the bows when they defeated the Wallabies in Sydney recently. I suspect this result would have frightened the bejesus out of the Welsh. Oh no, not again!
Island sides lift at the RWC because it’s only once every four years that they have most of their professional players available for selection. So, disregard Pacific Nations Cup form and strap yourself in for the ride. I think that now there might also be a psychological component to throw into the mix?
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves because the Welsh appear to me to be a stronger unit this year than they were at some other RWCs. That said, their record against the Islanders is fairly poor. Losses to Western Samoa in 1991, Manu Samoa in 1999 and bundled out by Fiji in 2007. Maybe the physicality of the Polynesian players puts them off their game?
In my view, Manu Samoa again have the potential to knock them off. Fiji, maybe not. They’re not the team they were in 2007 and have some apparent weaknesses.
However, that’s only secondary to the main Welsh challenge. All eyes will be on their first match against South Africa this Sunday. The Welsh have only beaten South Africa once. Yes, once ever, and a draw in 1970. That win was in 1999 with Graham ‘Ted’ Henry in charge — The Great Redeemer himself.
I can’t see a ‘twice’ happening here this weekend. I think they’ll put up a reasonable performance but just don’t have the big guns to knock over a pack like the Japies. The Welsh have been talking themselves up but it’d be a boil-over if they came out the victor this weekend.
I think they’ll be struggling in their group to hold onto second place. If they are successful, they may have a potential date with the Wallabies (if they top Group C).
Injuries. They’ve been relatively unlucky with their injury situation. They lost four players prior to the naming of the squad — captain and hooker Matthew Rees, 2nd hooker Richard Hibbard, fullback Morgan Stoddart and flash in the pan, Gav Henson (which may curtail his Gay Gordons). For this weekend they’re in a bit of trouble. Frontline prop Gethin Jenkins hasn’t played since the beginning of the year and isn’t available for Sunday. Stephen Jones has been an on-again, off-again proposition and looks today to be off. No 8 Ryan Jones is doubtful but has actually trained.
Strengths. The Welsh generally play an attractive brand of rugby that asks multiple questions of your defence — they don’t play the narrow channel. This time around they’ve quality loose forwards with their captain Sam Warburton the pick of the bunch. Bradley Davies at lock is their abrasive Big Kev equivalent. The flyhalves, Stephen Jones and James Hook, are both able generals with quality kicking games. Goalkicking is a given with both of these players. Wingers Shane Williams and George North are dynamic. Coach Gatland has flogged them in their Polish training camp so fitness shouldn’t be a problem. The Welsh always play with passion and hwyl.
Weaknesses. The front row is understrength and underdone. Hooker is a real problem now they’re into 3rd, 4th and 5th choices. Hair Bear Adam ‘Bomber’ Jones is in the mix but despite the Polish flogging his fatness might not last the distance. The best prop this year has been loosehead Paul James. Their lineout in the three leadup games was below par and without some of their best scrummagers (Jenkins, Rees etc) their set piece could become vulnerable. Captain Warburton is a great player but at 22 he is very inexperienced in leadership and test match terms. There are eight players from the 2007 RWC squad and it’s generally a young team overall.
Squad. Forwards: Gethin Jenkins (Blues), Lloyd Burns (Dragons), Huw Bennett, Ryan Bevington, Adam Jones, Paul James (Ospreys), Ken Owens (Scarlets), Craig Mitchell (Exeter), Bradley Davies, Sam Warburton (Blues, capt), Luke Charteris, Danny Lydiate, Toby Faletau (Dragons), Ryan Jones, Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys), Andy Powell (Sale Sharks) Backs: Michael Phillips (Bayonne), Lloyd Williams (Blues), Tavis Knoyle (Scarlets), Jamie Roberts (Blues), James Hook (Perpignan), Jonathan Davies, Stephen Jones, Rhys Priestland, Scott Williams (Scarlets), Leigh Halfpenny (Blues), Lee Byrne (Clermont Auvergne), Aled Brew (Dragons), Shane Williams (Ospreys), George North (Scarlets).
Likely First XV. 1. Gethin Jenkins 2. Huw Bennett 3. Adam Jones 4. Bradley Davies 5. Alun Wynn-Jones 6. Dan Lydiate 7. Sam Warburton 8. Ryan Jones 9. Mike Phillips 10. Stephen Jones 11. Shane Williams 12. Jamie Roberts 13. Jonathan Davies 14. George North 15. James Hook.
Best RWC Performance Third in 1987. Worst Pool 1999, 2007.
Alea iacta est — the Dai has been cast….