The battle for Wales’ number 13 shirt
With the start of the 2020 Six Nations Championship just a couple of weeks away, the six teams are finalising their preparations for what promises to be another rip-roaring campaign. The Six Nations is one of rugby’s greatest tournaments, and attracts fans and viewers from all over the world – those eager to see the hard-hitting, fast-paced excitement that only high-level international rugby can offer.
The latest Six Nations betting odds show England to be the favourites to win the competition, with Ireland in second place in the current predictions. One side hoping to overturn those odds is Wales. The departure of Warren Gatland means a new era has begun for the Welsh under the stewardship of another New Zealander, Wayne Pivac.
After a strong showing at the Rugby World Cup, where Wales lost out to eventual champions South Africa in a closely-fought semi-final, Welsh rugby fans will be hoping that the team can build on a positive campaign in Japan. After all, Wales are the defending Grand Slam champions heading into this year’s Six Nations tournament, and there will be a collective desire within the squad to replicate the success of 2019.
But Pivac is currently facing something of a headache when it comes to the number 13 position for Wales. Hadleigh Parkes is expected to be the first-choice centre in the number 12 shirt, but who partners him in the midfield remains up for debate. Experienced centre Jonathan Davies will miss out on the Six Nations due to injury, and Owen Watkin is also set to miss a portion of the tournament following knee surgery. That leaves a hole in the middle of the park for Wales, in one of the most important positions.
The two leading candidates to fill in are Josh Adams and George North. Neither is a centre by trade, with the wing being the preferred position of both. The two players are being tested out in the number 13 shirt at club level to give Pivac an idea of how they would fare in the middle of the park.
Playing as a centre requires slightly different attributes to playing on the wing. While both Adams and North are blessed with pace, strength, and attacking verve, to play in the midfield means getting involved in the grittier aspect of the game. Discipline at the breakdown will be key for whoever steps into the role, as greater defensive responsibilities fall upon them.
There is also the problem of how moving North or Adams into a different position will affect the wing positions. North is one of Wales’ best players of modern times, and has contributed massively to their success at the Six Nations over the last decade or so. While Adams is slightly younger and less experienced, he too has shown his talents on the wing for his country, and was a major part of the World Cup campaign, finishing as top try scorer in the competition with seven.
To take them out of their preferred positions may affect Wales’ scoring potential, but there are plenty of players eager to step in to the wide areas. Steff Evans has experience wearing the red shirt, and 22-year-old Owen Lane is another potential option. It will be a shame to break up the winning wing combination of Adams and North, who performed so well out wide at the World Cup, but it’s a case of needs must for Wales.
It’s a major early test of Pivac’s coaching mettle, and in a tournament as fiercely competitive as the Six Nations, mistakes in terms of team selection can have disastrous consequences. Whoever Pivac chooses for that number 13 position, it’s vital that they are up to scratch and ready for the challenge of their opening two matches against Italy and Ireland.
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