Firing on all cyclinders in the scrum is crucial for Wales, says Ieuan Evans
By Ieuan Evans. Last Updated: 28/01/14 8:50am
Jones: needs to get to grips with the scrum laws
The political goings on off the field are certainly a distraction for Wales but I don't think it will have a negative impact.
It must be frustrating for some of the players - especially those who are coming to the end of their contracts - and they do not know where they are going.
However, this is a very settled camp and I expect they will be very happy to go into a settled and established squad.
They will appreciate that they can go and block out the chatter and focus on the job in hand - and that it to make some Six Nations history by winning three titles in a row. The attraction of doing that and the challenge of that will certainly focus their minds.
"My big concern for Wales would be the scrum. It has been a real weapon for Wales in the past but Adam Jones for one has struggled to adapt to the new scrum engagement protocol and it will be interesting to see how he gets on."
I am happy with the squad Warren Gatland and his coaching staff have picked - they seem to have everything covered and have picked who they can as far as injuries go. I would be thrilled if Jonathan Davies can play some part in this tournament. He is an outstanding player and we saw from the Autumn series just how much he was missed after he was injured against South Africa.
Wales have some key players coming back from injury - Jamie Roberts, Dan Lydiate and Adam Jones. Whether the rest will have done them good, we will judge at the end of the tournament. You still want you players to be battle-hardened coming off a Heineken Cup tournament.
Lydiate, for example, has not played an awful lot and he is a major part of Wales' back row and their game-plan - his role is that of a tree chopper where he scythes down the opposition and stops them getting any momentum.
However, Gatland will be delighted with the form of some of his other players. Alun-Wyn Jones is looking really good at the moment. He has had a quiet start to the season - you would expect that off the back of a Lions tour - but he is right back up to speed again. He has shown in the last three weeks what a magnificent player he is and will play a huge part for Wales in this season's campaign. Richard Hibbard and Toby Faletau are also playing very well - Faletau was probably Wales' best player in the Autumn internationals.
One of the problems will be getting the French-based players integrated back into Wales' philosophy and game-plan. Mike Phillips, like Lydiate, is playing in a Racing Metro side that is struggling at the moment and it will be interesting to see how he adapts to international rugby again. Wales' game-plan is vastly different to the really pedestrian game-plan of Racing Metro.
Wales will look to play a very fast and high tempo game, they have the size and the power in the backline and they have try-scorers in abundance at the moment. One of those try-scorers is George North, who in the last month has really raised his game to a different level. I think he has realised what an impact he can have on a game. As I said earlier, I would love to see Davies back as he brings a bit of subtlety to Wales' game - at times they do struggle with that.
My big concern for Wales is the scrum. It has been a real weapon for Wales in the past but Adam Jones has struggled to adapt to the new scrum engagement protocol and it will be interesting to see how he gets on. If you remember back to the Wales v England game last year, the Jones factor was a major reason in determining the outcome of that game.
Wales really need him to be dominant in the scrum and to bring a lot of pressure to bear on his opposite number. They need his physical presence to set up the power and the pace in the backs - if they can do that then it should be a good tournament for them.
Gatland is going to have to make some tough selection decisions too - but we know he has never backed away from doing that.
One of the most significant decisions he will have to make will be at half-back. Will he go for Dan Biggar who has done well for Wales in the Six Nations and who is an outstanding goal-kicker and kicker from hand? Or does he go for Rhys Priestland, whose game suits Wales better but his form fluctuates and his confidence is affected by that?
I think Wales will do well but their key game will be Ireland away. It is all about getting momentum and then keeping that momentum up. The Six Nations is such a short tournament so if you start well, then that should take you through.