Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Wales First Test Team: 5 Talking Points

Warren Gatland has named his team for the first test on Saturday against Australia, 16 months since Gatland's triumph in the third Lions test against the Wallabies. His selections for that test created quite a stir; this time it isn't so controversial, but it's still created some discussion. Here are the five main talking points.

Paul James
It looked like the time would never come for Paul James. Gethin Jenkins’ grip on the number one jersey was pretty strong and, it seemed, no matter how well James performed he couldn’t oust Melon from Gatland’s plans. 
However, in recent weeks, James has been even more impressive than previously and the Ospreys must been very excited about bringing Assey home next season. Jenkins’ supposed weaknesses at the scrum have been greatly exaggerated, but James strengths there every bit as good as suggested.
Gethin does offer more around the pitch than most props in the world, but James is more than able to compete around the park. Gatland will look to bully the Aussies up front and James is the man to do it, especially with Samson Lee propping up the other side.
George North
There are few players in the world like George North. Built like a second row with skills of a back and the pace of a winger; North will scare even the best of defences. He already has some fond memories of Australia games - not least throwing Israel Folau onto his shoulder like an old rug - and he's still only 22!
Saturday is a different test altogether for North, as he switches to outside centre. There is no questioning North's ball carrying abilities, but he has been prone to defensive lapses in the past. That's a big problem in the 13 jersey with Wales utilising the blitz defence. Outside centre is absolutely key in making the system work and North must be on top of his game in defence.
On the left wing, North isn't a lazy player and will come in field to look for work if teams stifle Wales. Gatland has to be sure that moving North further in field doesn't take away this opportunity if Australia put pressure on the Welsh backs. It's well documented how reluctant Halfpenny appears to be to join the line in attack, so North moving in field can't take away the one variant of a sometimes predictable offence. Fortunately, Cory Allen is available on the bench if things aren't going to plan.
Rhys Webb
Without doubt, Wales' in form scrum half. From the first week of the season it was clear that Rhys Webb and the Scarlets Gareth Davies would put pressure on Mike Phillips come international time. Injury took Davies out of the equation, but Webb hasn't let up. The pace Webb provides, coupled with his on field chemistry with Dan Biggar makes him virtually impossible to overlook.
Dan Lydiate
With Biggar firmly in control of the 10 jersey, this is perhaps the most hotly disputed position of all. Many want to see Justin Tipuric start in the back row and, with Lydiate struggling for game time with Racing Metro, it looked like this would be their chance to see Warburton and Tipuric in tandem once again. 
However, the Welsh coaching team love the chemistry and balance supplied by Warburton, Faletau and Lydiate. The trio have an almost telepathic link that played a huge part in Six Nations titles and a World Cup run into the last four. With Lydiate due back across the channel for good when these tests are over, this is likely to be the trio that will lead Wales into the World Cup.
Jake Ball
A much underrated player. Jake Ball hits rucks with such unrepentant force his middle name should be ‘Wrecking.’ Perhaps a little more raw and brutish than the other options to partner Alun Wyn in the boiler house, Ball is another sign of Gatland's whack 'em, smash 'em tactics when it comes to the forwards. Wales sometimes lack the raw aggression they need against bigger opponents and Ball has it in abundance. Fear the beard.
Gatland's plans aren't difficult to see and anyone hoping for an end to 'Warrenball' look set to be sorely disappointed. As Gatland as said previously, "you know what we are going to do, but can you stop us?" Saturday it won't be an easy task, but it's the men from the Land Down Under charged with doing it. Both teams desperately need a win, we'll have to wait until Saturday to see who comes away happiest.
Men at Work - Down Under

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