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The Nation Needs Change . . . Wales Have to Start Winning Again

By Graham Thomas

“Change” is the mantra of Keir Starmer and the Labour Party and it might equally be the slogan adopted by Warren Gatland this summer.

Only, it’s not 14 years of Conservative government the Wales coach is trying to overhaul, but 14 Tests over the past 10 months.

Of those 14 games, Wales have won six and lost eight, which doesn’t sound too disastrous until you peer a bit more deeply into the figures and the direction of travel.

One of those wins – against the Barbarians in November – was not a Test match, while of the last six proper Tests, all of them have been lost.

It means that if Wales lose to South Africa at Twickenham on June 22, and then fail in two tour Tests against Australia, they will have suffered nine straight defeats on the trot.

That’s certainly a change for the worse compared to Gatland’s first spall as national coach, although it does reflect the current state of Welsh rugby across the board.

Only the Ospreys can take much satisfaction from the regular season just ended. They have made the knockout stages of the United Rugby Championship and they will play away at Munster in the quarter-final on Friday night.

Before the final round of games, the Ospreys were 1,000/1 to win the URC title with DragonBet, a reflection of the need for so many results to fall in their favour.

Those plates all fell food-side up, meaning once they had taken a bite out of Cardiff on Judgement Day, Toby Booth’s team were into the last eight.

Now, they are mere 100/1 shots to become champions, although to make progress against the Irish champions they will need to defy DragonBet’s match odds of 15/2. Munster are 1/11.

Gatland, it appears, is not that convinced a change in his fortunes is very reliant on the Ospreys. After all, he picked only six of their players in his 36-man squad named this week.

The likes of No.8 Morgan Morris and prop Nicky Smith were overlooked, despite the heavy number of players unavailable.

But it’s not just players from the Swansea region that Wales are short on. Matchwinners look very thin on the ground, too.

Without the likes of Louis Rees-Zammit, Josh Adams, Tomos Williams and George North, it is hard to see where the tries are coming from, less still the stardust.

This current squad must be the least known, the least feared, and maybe even the least exciting Wales have had since the dark days of Steve Hansen 20 years ago.

The returning pair of Jac Morgan and Dewi Lake will help in all those deficient departments, but it is still hard to feel a turnaround is just around the corner.

Wales did beat South Africa, 13-12, in Bloemfontein two years ago – perhaps Wayne Pivac’s finest result – but overall, the picture is of one win in the last six matches against the current world champions.

Of course, Wales earned a record-breaking 40-6 victory over Australia at the pool stages of last year’s World Cup in Lyon, but the Wallabies have history on their side Down Under.

Wales won their first Test on Australian soil back in 1969, but since then they have lost all pf the next 11.

There is no doubt that under their new coach, Joe Schmidt, the Aussies will be thirsting for revenge and even though Gatland is just as desperate to win, his language at present is all about winning respect rather than matches.

“We want to get back to the levels of respect we had earned playing against South Africa over a number of years in terms of the performances and results we had against them,” said Gatland.

“You quickly lose that respect and the challenge for us is how do we get back to that level?

“A big part of that is mental. Not a huge number of players come into camp with a huge amount of confidence in terms of results they have had over the season and especially in big games.

“We have to try to build confidence and self-belief in the group and that’s a big challenge for us.”

Away from international scene and the Ospreys, Gatland may cast an envious eye over to Twickenham where over 80,000 fans will watch two in-form English teams – Bath and Northampton – battle it out in the Premiership Final.

The two clubs finished locked on 60 points in the top two places of the regular season, but DragonBet make Northampton strong favourites to lift the trophy on Saturday.

Saints are 8/15, with Bath at 6/4 and the draw after 80 minutes priced 20/1.

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