The Wales team that finished the game against Scotland on Saturday evening is exactly the type of Wales team that Wayne Pivac should be basing his selections around going forward.
Yes it was against a 14-man opposition, but in a still very tight and tense game, away at Murrayfield, against a Scottish side who were confident on the back of the win against England and with one of the best defences in the Six Nations, to see us play with an air of freedom and confidence that comes from youthful exuberance was a breath of fresh air.
Now I admit that I’m not the most dedicated Wales fan. The results don’t bother me much beyond full-time in comparison to a Cardiff Blues result that can ruin a whole week, so I’m probably more interested in the quality of performance than most are.
However, I continue to believe that the right way to go for Wayne Pivac and Stephen Jones is to put their faith in the next generation of players who are more suited to the style of play they are trying to implement and can build towards the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
Liam Williams, Louis Rees-Zammit, Owen Watkin, Willis Halaholo, Nick Tompkins, Callum Sheedy, Kieran Hardy; Rhodri Jones, Elliot Dee, Leon Brown, Adam Beard, Will Rowlands, James Botham, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau
This was the team that was on the field at full-time at Murrayfield, and in key positions there are players who are fairly new to the international stage or fairly young, or both. Hooker, tighthead, second row, blindside, half-back, inside centre, wing are all exciting players.
Overall the average age is 26.2 years old and the average caps per player is 25.6, a total of 385 caps in the XV and 232 of those are between Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau and Liam Williams. Only Faletau, Tipuric and Willis Halaholo are aged 30 or over, and the latter didn’t even start playing professionally properly until he was 23.
If you fast forward two-and-a-half years then the average age would be 28.8 by the time we reach France for the World Cup, an ideal age profile for a starting XV looking to play at it’s peak, and with potentially 25-30 test matches between now and September 2023 there is every chance the average caps per player would be closer to 50, ensuring all have plenty of experience at this level.
Leigh Halfpenny, Louis Rees-Zammit, George North, Johnny Williams, Hallam Amos, Dan Biggar, Tomos Williams; Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Tomas Francis, Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones, Dan Lydiate, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau
This side that took the field against Ireland last week, on the other hand, contains 13 players who were being selected by Warren Gatland at one point or another and is one of the oldest starting XVs that Wales have ever named.
The average age is 28.7 years old, with seven of the XV aged 30 or over, having 893 caps between them at an average of 59.5 caps per player. The forwards by themselves have an average age of 30.5 thanks to the presence of Owens, AW Jones, Lydiate, Tipuric and Faletau.
If you were to fast forward that side to the first game of the Rugby World Cup in 2023 the average age of the squad as a whole would be 31.2 years old, comfortably too old to be competitive against the best sides in the world playing at their peak.
Hopefully the early changes of the half-backs in particular, with Kieran Hardy and Callum Sheedy both introduced against Scotland after just 50 minutes, is a sign that Pivac is coming around to the idea of utilising players who can drive his attacking game plan.
With two wins under his belt now there is a lifting of the pressure on the head coach which will hopefully allow him to pick players who aren’t short-term results based selections, but who can perform now and will only get better on the road to 2023.
Back yourself, Wayne!