Six Nations 2023: Welsh rugby in turmoil as Warren Gatland prepares for Scotland

Wales have lost 10 out of the last 13 internationals
Wales have lost 10 out of the last 13 internationals
Venue: Murrayfield, Edinburgh Date: Saturday, 11 February Kick-off:16:45 GMT
Coverage: Live on BBC One Wales, S4C, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru and Radio 5 Sports Extra, the BBC Sport website & app; live text commentary on BBC Sport website & app. Highlights and analysis, Scrum V Six Nations, BBC Two Wales, Sunday, 12 February from 18:00 GMT and later on demand.

Make no mistake. Welsh rugby is in turmoil.

Off the field, the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) finds itself embroiled in a sexism scandal that has shone a light on the shortcomings of the governing body across a wide range of issues.

On the field, Wales opened the 2023 Six Nations by suffering their heaviest home defeat in the competition since 2001.

So Warren Gatland’s return as head coach had no fairytale script, with world ranked number one side Ireland inflicting a considerable dose of reality as they had the game won by half-time.

Irish men’s rugby is currently light years ahead of its Welsh equivalent – on so many levels.

Warren Gatland
Wales celebrated three Grand Slams during Warren Gatland’s first stint as head coach

No Gatland bounce

There was a real hope Gatland’s return for a second stint in charge would result in some sort of instant Welsh revival. Perhaps those expecting a bounce were caught up in the emotion.

Some Welsh supporters had appeared to think the mere re-appointment of Wales’ most successful coach would result in an immediate upturn of fortunes.

Logic never backed this idea. Reality backed logic up, with Ireland dominating.

Gatland had overseen a golden era for Wales between 2008 and 2019, but this was a sobering lesson about how far the national team has fallen in his absence.

A penny for the thoughts of the departed Wales coach Wayne Pivac as he watched events unfold in Cardiff.

A different New Zealander may be in charge, but the problems remain for a Wales side who won only three of 12 Tests in 2022.

If Gatland had any doubts about the extent of the job he faced after deciding to return, a bonus-point defeat against Andy Farrell’s side quickly made things clear.

He has assembled a new-look coaching team with Alex King and Mike Forshaw, but the issues of ill-discipline, inaccuracy and set-piece struggles remain.

Gatland says he was not too disappointed with Wales’ performance and things can be fixed.

He will ultimately be judged by the results at the World Cup later this year in France and will back himself to turn around Welsh fortunes after spending more time with a struggling squad.

In the short term, though, this sort of Six Nations showing makes uncomfortable viewing for Welsh fans

Slow starters, discipline issues

It might seem a lazy narrative to suggest Wales teams start slowly in tournaments, but they keep living up to the stereotype.

Trailing to Ireland 14-0 inside 10 minutes and 27-3 with under half an hour played meant the game was effectively over. The Principality Stadium crowd was left stunned, though Wales’ fans did find their voice in the second half.

Among the songs sung by sections of the home support was Delilah, which had been removed from the pre-match play list because its lyrics depict the murder of a woman by her jealous partner.

On the pitch, Wales were 24 points down at the interval. Not since the Six Nations era began in 2000 had they faced such a large half-time deficit.

In the tournament’s history, only the 27-0 half-time losing margin against France in 1998 at Wembley could eclipse what happened this weekend.

Wales improved in the second half, with Liam Williams scoring a try, but for all the home possession and territory dominance, Ireland absorbed the pressure as Gatland’s side proved wasteful after creating chances.

Some statistics indicated there was parity between the two sides, but in terms of clinical finishing, Wales and Ireland were far apart.

Youth or experience?

Gatland had kept faith with the tried and trusted as he picked a starting side boasting more than 900 caps’ worth of experience and featuring eight players aged 30 or over.

Whether he sticks to this policy remains to be seen. Some of the more impressive performers in the losing cause against Ireland were the younger players, with Joe Hawkins, Rio Dyer and Jac Morgan all having moments of encouragement.

Flanker Tommy Reffell, 23, was prominent, when he replaced the surprisingly ineffective Justin Tipuric early in the second half.

Gatland was never afraid to cull the older generation during his first stint in charge as Adam Jones, Martyn Williams, Mike Phillips, James Hook, Richard Hibbard and Jamie Roberts will testify.

The world’s most-capped player, Alun Wyn Jones, is unavailable for the trip to Scotland next weekend after failing a head injury assessment.

With Will Rowlands injured, Jones, 37, will be replaced by Rhys Davies, Dafydd Jenkins or Christ Tshiunza, with the trio all in their early 20s.

Time will tell whether there will be a younger feel to Wales’ team in Edinburgh next Saturday.

Scotland await

Gatland never lost to Scotland during his previous 12-year spell as Wales head coach.

Wales were defeated in Edinburgh in 2017, but Rob Howley was in charge with Gatland away with the British and Irish Lions.

Gatland’s personal record against Scotland is now under threat after Gregor Townsend’s team celebrated a third successive win against England on Saturday, achieving consecutive away victories in London for the first time in the process.

That victory was inspired by Duhan van der Merwe, as the wing crossed twice in a Calcutta Cup classic at Twickenham.

Van der Merwe plundered his decisive second try in the 74th minute having already brought Twickenham to its feet with a stunning first-half score that began in his own half and saw five would-be tacklers beaten by his speed, strength and footwork.

Gatland has already suffered defeat against one of his previous Lions staff members with Farrell taking the spoils in Cardiff.

Now Townsend’s Scotland await in Edinburgh. For Gatland’s team, any sort of victory is required to help lift Welsh rugby’s gloom.

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