After just falling short of reaching the 2023 World Cup semi-finals, there are positives Warren Gatland’s Wales can take into the 2024 Six Nations.
Wales were given little hope of reaching the business end of the World Cup on French soil last year but, after raising a few eyebrows in the major competition, there can be some cautious optimism heading into the Six Nations.
Welsh Topped Challenging Pool
In a World Cup group that included former champions Australia and a dangerous Fiji side, there were questions on whether Wales would even reach the knockout stages across the Channel. Wales are 45/1 in the sports betting to win the Six Nations this year, as they headed into the major tournament in poor form. Finishing down in fifth place in the 2023 Six Nations with just one win to their name, little was expected of Wales going into the World Cup. That might well have suited Gatland’s squad as they earned plenty of plaudits for their efforts in France.
Wales hit the ground running in Pool C and avoided a banana skin to beat Fiji 32-26 in Bordeaux. Fiji would eventually finish second in the group, which was a vital victory for the Welsh over the Pacific Islanders. While not hitting top gear against Portugal in Nice, Wales still got the job done with a 28-8 victory in their second game. Gatland’s side produced their performance of the tournament in a 40-6 rout against Australia, before securing the top spot in Pool C with a 43-19 win over Georgia in Nantes. Sadly the World Cup journey was to end in the quarter-finals with a 29-17 defeat to Argentina at the Stade de Marseille. Conceding two tries in the last 12 minutes of the game, there was the feeling it got away from Gatland and his side.
A New Era Awaits
While there is the familiar figure of Gatland in the coaches’ box, there looks to be a new Wales side that will compete in the 2024 Six Nations. Legends Alun Wyn Jones and Dan Bigger have called time on their successful international careers and other players will need to step up to try and fill those big shoes. The likes of George North, Gareth Davies and Adam Beard are some of the most experienced players named in the 2024 Six Nations squad and they will be leaders on and off the field for others to look to. What should stand Wales in good stead is the fact that this year they have three of their five Six Nations games in Cardiff. The Principality Stadium has always given the national side a lift, even when form or injuries to key players have gone against them.
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Wales will host Scotland, France and Italy in this year’s annual tournament and that should provide optimism for what can be achieved during the campaign. Last season’s Grand Slam winners Ireland and fellow heavyweights France were the two standout teams in the Six Nations last year and Wales do have some ground to make up to catch the duo.
Wales’ efforts at the last World Cup, especially that emphatic win over the Wallabies, show what this side is capable of under Gatland. The 2024 Six Nations represents a stern test for Wales but one that Gatland and his players should be relishing.