RBS Six Nations 2013 - Wales preview

By Tony Curtis - Follow me on Twitter @SkysportsTC.   Last Updated: 28/01/13 2:56pm

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The defending Grand Slam champions have it all to do this time around if they are to defend their crown.

Since their clean sweep at last season's championship, it has all been downhill for the Welsh.

They suffered a 3-0 series defeat to Australia in the summer - and while luck might not have been on their side down under, the slump continued in the autumn.

Defeats to New Zealand, Argentina and Australia will have hurt, but it is the loss to Samoa that will have cranked up the pressure on the squad.

The absence of Warren Gatland - who masterminded their fourth-placed finish at the World Cup as well as their Grand Slam triumph - has been a cruel blow, with the New Zealander having been first sidelined by a freak injury and then unavailable due to his secondment to the British and Irish Lions.

That means Rob Howley continues in the caretaker role and he will need to restore the self-belief in the squad.

Injuries have hit the Welsh hard, with Alun-Wyn Jones, Luke Charteris, Bradley Davies, Rhys Priestland and Aaron Jarvis among those unavailable. However they have some exciting players handed a chance with Andries Pretorius, Josh Navidi and Eli Walker looking to play their part.

The battle for the No 10 shirt could be key, with James Hook and Dan Biggar vying to replace the sidelined Rhys Priestland.

Wales

Interim coach: Rob Howley
Captain: Sam Warburton
Key man: Dan Biggar/James Hook
Last season: Champions
SkyBet Odds: 9/2
Prediction: 4th - Wales have struggled in the aftermath of their Grand Slam triumph last year and a run of seven straight Test defeats will have left confidence at an all-time low. Injuries to key positions will not help their cause, nor will the absence of head coach Warren Gatland - who is on secondment with the British and Irish Lions. They face three tough away games, while England and Ireland will arrive in Cardiff gunning for revenge.

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