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Praise for ‘sharp’ new boys in Wales squad

31 Jan 2024 3 minute read
Wales’ Ryan Elias (right) is tackled by Australia’s Robert Leota Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

Ryan Elias has praised Wales’ Six Nations newcomers and their impact on a squad preparing for Saturday’s tournament opener against Scotland in Cardiff.

Head coach Warren Gatland’s 34-strong group contains just 18 players who were involved in a World Cup campaign that ended only last autumn.

The list of absentees reads like a Welsh rugby who’s who, headlined by players such as Louis Rees-Zammit, Liam Williams, Dan Biggar, Gareth Anscombe, Tomas Francis, Dewi Lake, Jac Morgan and Taulupe Faletau.

Wales have a new skipper – their youngest since 1968 – in 21-year-old Exeter lock Dafydd Jenkins, while Cardiff quartet Cam Winnett, Evan Lloyd, Alex Mann and Mackenzie Martin are among five uncapped players.

It represents a considerable reset on the World Cup road to Australia 2027, but experienced campaigner Elias has been enthused by preparations for Scotland’s Principality Stadium visit.

New faces

“There are a lot of young, new faces and they bring a lot of energy to the sessions. They want to learn,” Wales hooker Elias said.

“To be honest with you, it was a bit odd in the first day or two.

“You are so used to seeing the old boys and experienced heads that have been there for years. I remember watching them growing up, people like Dan Biggar, who have been stalwarts for the country.

“Other boys get the chance to – and have to – step up. It is very competitive in training.

“There is a competitive and physical edge. These young lads are sharp, so you have to be on the ball.

“People might not be giving us much of a chance because there have been so many changes, but we are just concentrating on ourselves to put a performance in we can be proud of.”

Wales face successive trips to Twickenham and Dublin after hosting Scotland, which underlines the importance of a first game where recent history strongly favours Warren Gatland’s team.

Scotland have suffered 11 successive defeats in Cardiff, comprising nine Six Nations encounters, a World Cup warm-up game and an autumn Test.

And if Wales can continue that trend it would make an immediate statement not only to their rivals, but also the bookmakers predicting a fifth-place finish with only Italy below them.

Momentum

Wales assistant coach Neil Jenkins said: “We always believe we can prove ourselves.

“I think most people have written us off already, there is no doubting that. It is not something we tend to worry about.

“It is momentum isn’t it, the Six Nations? I always say with us that we generally get better as the tournament goes on, so the first two games are always massive for us.

“There are quite a few new players involved in this group, and it will be the first time for them in terms of experiencing a Six Nations game.

“It is a settled Scotland side and I am sure they will be fancying their chances, but we’ve just got to focus on ourselves.”


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