Wales open their 2024 Six Nations campaign by hosting Scotland in Cardiff on Saturday (4.45pm kick-off); below we look at Warren Gatland’s side in depth, discussing what’s changed, what’s hot, what’s not, their championship record and squad news
Image: Warren Gatland's Wales are much changed from the last two years after a number of retirements and injuries
Wales have seen a host of experienced players retire, several key men pick up injuries, and largely poor form for over two years now. What can we expect from Warren Gatland’s side in 2024?
Three of Wales’ last four Six Nations campaigns have seen them finish fifth. In 2023, Wales were heavily beaten at home to Ireland, away to Scotland and France, and lost at home to England too. At the Rugby World Cup in the autumn, they lost to a weak Argentina side in the quarters.
An ageing squad has largely retired, but Wales’ young players severely lack Test experience and are unproven as to whether they are good enough for the top level of rugby union. A certain star has chosen to defect to NFL too.
Gatland, Wales head coach for 12 years between 2007 and 2019, returned last year but has struggled to have an impact, chopping and changing a side which has been outplayed by so many over the last few seasons.
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We look at the key aspects of their 2024 squad as they look to rediscover some form against Scotland in Cardiff first up…
- Scotland – Principality Stadium – Saturday, February 3 – 4.45pm (GMT)
- England – Twickenham – Saturday, February 10 – 4.45pm (GMT)
- Ireland – Aviva Stadium – Saturday, February 24 – 2.15pm (GMT)
- France – Principality Stadium – Sunday, March 10 – 3pm (GMT)
- Italy – Principality Stadium – Saturday, March 18 – 2.15pm (GMT)
The headline change in Wales camp came only this month, when star wing Louis Rees-Zammit shocked the world of rugby by announcing he was leaving the sport to chase his dream of a career in NFL.
Louis Rees-Zammit opened up on his decision to join the NFL’s international player pathway programme
Gatland later revealed he only found out about Rees-Zammit’s decision an hour before he was set to name his Wales squad for the Six Nations, while the player himself had only been invited to the NFL’s international player pathway programme in Florida two days earlier.
“I would like to take this opportunity to announce a significant career decision that I have taken after careful consideration. In a move that I am extremely excited about, I can confirm that I will be joining the NFL’s International Player Pathway program (IPP) in pursuit of earning a spot on an NFL roster in the United States for 2024,” Rees-Zammit revealed via X (formerly Twitter).
“Opting to step away from international rugby on the eve of the Six Nations has been a painstaking decision, but I am extremely excited to take up a once in a lifetime opportunity to pursue a new challenge.”
Gatland admitted the news of Rees-Zammit’s decision to pursue a career in NFL came as ‘a shock’
Rees-Zammit reveals what position he would like to play as he sets his sights on the NFL
The news came as a particular blow to Gatland and Wales, with a number of experienced players having already departed the set-up over the last 12 months.
Fly-half Dan Biggar and full-back Leigh Halfpenny retired since the World Cup, while back-three Liam Williams moved to play club rugby in Japan. Second row Alun Wyn Jones and back-row Justin Tipuric retired before the tournament.
Image: Dan Biggar is among a host of experienced Wales players to have retired over the last 12 months
Wales also have a new captain in the shape of 21-year-old second row Dafydd Jenkins.
Jenkins captains an inexperienced squad which has an average age of just 25, five uncapped players, and a further eight in line to make their Six Nations debuts.
Just 18 of Wales’ 33-player World Cup squad have been named in Gatland’s 34-player Six Nations panel.
Image: Wales second row Dafydd Jenkins, 21, has been named captain by Gatland
Looking at things as a whole, the omens don’t appear too kind for Wales heading into this championship.
Gatland and Wales have known this period of transition from vast experience to severe-lack-thereof has been coming for some time, and the 60-year-old head coach has chosen to see the merits of such a situation as opposed to its pitfalls.
“It is incredibly exciting. If you look at the squad we have got some talent, we’ve got some experience there from players we had with us at the World Cup.
“We have lost a lot of experience, but it is a new cycle for us to go through. We probably need a little bit of time and a little bit of patience from the Welsh public.
“I think that despite all the negativity around Welsh rugby I think there are a lot of positives.
“There are a lot of negatives financially, but the financial challenges mean that we are giving opportunities to lots of youngsters that we may not have seen a few years ago, and for me that is a massive positive.
“We are not going to benefit in the short term, but I think that in the next three or four years we are going to benefit from us giving them those chances.
“Despite what people are talking about, the financial challenges, I see it differently as a real positive and a real chance for a reset in Welsh rugby that is going to put us in good stead over the next few years.”
Image: Welsh Rugby has undergone severe financial disruption in recent seasons
New captain Jenkins looks a player Wales will look to build a side around for years to come, with the 21-year-old becoming the youngest player ever to captain a Premiership side last season when he led Exeter in November 2022, and has since captained the Chiefs on numerous other occasions.
Jenkins will become the youngest player to captain Wales since 1968 during this Six Nations, and the second youngest ever after the great Gareth Edwards.
It’s difficult to look past the Rees-Zammit news in this particular section, whose announcement came firmly out of the blue.
The 22-year-old wing scored five tries in five fixtures for Wales at the Rugby World Cup, and played for club Gloucester as recently as January 13, scoring a try, with no imminent link to the dramatic career change until the player’s announcement.
Image: Gatland's Wales head into the championship with few giving them a chance of success
Rees-Zammit has been a pivotal performer for Wales since breaking into the side in 2020 – scoring 14 tries in 31 Tests and touring with the British and Irish Lions in 2021. His out-and-out pace and ability to finish chances marked him out as an exceptional backline talent and threat.
The exciting back had also scored 38 tries in 69 appearances for Premiership side Gloucester, and his sudden departure will have shocked and rocked Wales’ coaching set-up.
In addition to numerous retirements, Wales also have a number of injuries at present.
Superbly talented back-row Jac Morgan, who was named co-captain of Wales at the World Cup, will miss the rest of the season due to a knee injury, while hooker Ken Owens (back), No 8 Taulupe Faletau (arm), lock/flanker Christ Tshiunza (foot), flanker Taine Plumtree (shoulder) and hooker Dewi Lake (hamstring) are all out too.
Image: Jac Morgan, who co-captained Wales during the Rugby World Cup, has been ruled out for the season due to a knee injury
A squad with such a dearth of experience and caps will be hugely up against it to succeed against opposition the strength of France, Ireland, Scotland and England, while Wales’ form has been truly dreadful.
Across 2022 and 2023, Wales played in 25 Tests and won only nine of them. Delve further and there’s even more concern, with three of those wins coming against Portugal, Georgia and Italy, but historic home defeats to the Azzurri and Los Lelos also recorded.
Despite being on the far softer side of the World Cup draw, Wales failed to take advantage as they limped out to a poor Argentina side in Marseille – a Pumas side who lost their semi-final against New Zealand 44-6.
It would be a big surprise if Wales were able to arrest such a dramatic slide in 2024. Their opening fixture at home to Scotland is massive.
Six Nations since 2000: Six-time winners (2005, 2008, 2012, 2013, 2019, 2021)
Overall: 28 titles outright (1893, 1900, 1902, 1905, 1908, 1909, 1911, 1922, 1931, 1936, 1950, 1952, 1956, 1965, 1966, 1969, 1971, 1975, 1976, 1978, 1979, 1994, 2005, 2008, 2012, 2013, 2019, 2021)
Wales’ 34-player squad for the 2023 Six Nations:
Forwards (19): Corey Domachowski, Kemsley Mathias, Gareth Thomas, Elliot Dee, Ryan Elias, Evan Lloyd, Keiron Assiratti, Leon Brown, Archie Griffin, Adam Beard, Dafydd Jenkins (c), Will Rowlands, Teddy Williams, Taine Basham, James Botham, Alex Mann, Mackenzie Martin, Tommy Reffell, Aaron Wainwright.
Backs (15): Gareth Davies, Kieran Hardy, Tomos Williams, Sam Costelow, Cai Evans, Ioan Lloyd, Mason Grady, George North, Joe Roberts, Nick Tompkins, Owen Watkin, Josh Adams, Rio Dyer, Tom Rogers, Cameron Winnett.