from best team in Europe in 2021 to second tournament in a row, the heavy fall of Welsh rugby
Sacred during the 2021 Tournament, the Dragons, who play at the Stade de France on Saturday against the Blues, are having a tough time, and are sure to finish off the podium for the second consecutive edition.
Welsh dragons have lost their luster. The Azzurri’s last opponent in the 2023 Six Nations Tournament, Saturday 18 March (3.45 pm on France 2 and france.tv), Wales, one of the biggest nations in world rugby, has fallen very low for two years, plunged into crisis economic and structural.
Crowned in 2021 at the end of a successful Tournament, where they had only fallen at the Stade de France on the final day, the Welsh seemed to be launched towards a new golden period. However, two years later, they will not be on the podium at the 2023 edition, for the second consecutive year. “Two years ago they could have made the Grand Slam and today they are at the bottom of the hole”recently summed up former French international Denis Charvet, on the microphone of RMC Sports.
In 2022, Welsh rugby has come to a screeching halt. Dan Biggar’s teammates had a string of disappointments, narrow defeats by Italy then Georgia at home, slapped by the All Blacks (55-23) on the autumn tour. Struggling, they fell to ninth in the world rankings. The beginning of 2023 is no longer brilliant, with three defeats in the Tournament for only one small victory in Italy after four days.
A lost game and no renewal of the workforce
Blame stutters in attack and build. Despite Gatland’s return to activity in early February, the Leek XV failed to find the game that had allowed them to win three Grand Slams (2008, 2012 and 2019, all under Gatland’s leadership). The Welsh have scored just one try per match in their first three matches of the Tournament, displaying worryingly poor attacking ability.
Welsh rugby also suffers from low player numbers which hamper generational turnover. Facing the Blues, the Leek XV aligns, as since the beginning of the competition, its oldest stars: second row Alun Wyn Jones (37 years old), for whom it is the 17th Tournament, hooker Ken Owens (36 years ), open Dan Biggar (33)…
Capable of doing well, like scrum-half Rhys Webb (34), who excelled against Italy, these former players are struggling to hide the lack of available players in a nation with only around three million resident players. According to former Leek XV captain Sam Warburton, within five years, “there simply won’t be a sufficient pool of players to be competitive, especially when seasoned managers retire”.
Several weeks of non-sports crisis
Dying on the turf, Welsh rugby is also experiencing an economic crisis outside the sport. As of last November, in TimesSam Warburton had criticized “grotesque spirit of the bell tower” of a federation (WRU) in which amateur rugby has eight out of twelve seats.
“It’s a mode of government stuck in the Stone Age”he had estimated, asking the entrance of “people highly qualified in finance, marketing and (sports) performance, who will have to make smart, strategic and potentially drastic decisions”.
The threat of a strike by the internationals, in the middle of the Tournament, concerned about their federal contracts, had highlighted these economic difficulties. One more problem for the WRU, embroiled in a case of sexism that forced its general manager to resign before the start of the Tournament.