Wales have been warned the lack of investment in regional rugby is going to ‘bite them on a**e’ amid a prediction they’ll fall back in this season’s Six Nations.
The forecast comes from former Dragons head coach Bernard Jackman.
The ex-Ireland hooker spent 18 months at the sharp end of the professional game in Wales as team boss at Rodney Parade during 2017 and 2018, so knows the Welsh scene with all its unique challenges.
And his conclusions are not bright for Wales for the championship ahead, despite the successes of recent seasons which have seen Warren Gatland and Wayne Pivac oversee Six Nations title triumphs, with Gatland delivering a Grand Slam in 2019.
Addressing their prospects for the 2022 Six Nations on The42 Rugby Weekly podcast, Jackman said Wales deserved ‘absolute credit’ for their silverware success of last year but he didn’t expect it to be repeated this term.
“I think they’ve slipped back,” he said.
“Eventually, the lack of quality or investment in regional rugby is going to bite them on the a**e.
“Gatland and Pivac have papered over the cracks.
“If you look at the U20s over the last couple of years there hasn’t been a good generation.
“I wonder if they’ve got the strength in depth. They certainly wouldn’t have anything like (the strength in depth of) England, France or Ireland.
“They got lucky in last year’s Six Nations with a couple of red cards and they capitalised. And they got lucky with a red card against Australia (recently) as well. I thought Australia were the better team with 14 players.
“So I do think Wales will drop off a little bit, to be honest.
“And it’s logical that they do.
“It’s been amazing what they’ve done, given the amount of investment in the regional game there.”
There have been repeated calls for more money to be directed the way of the Welsh regions and criticism of the Welsh Rugby Union for leaving the regions to pay back the £20 million bank loan that was taken out to cover payments the union were due to make to the regions for access to their players for international duty.
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Jackman was able to identify some positives for Wales in the autumn, though.
His spell at the Dragons saw him hand a debut to a then 18-year-old Taine Basham. He enthused back then: “His footwork is exceptional, as good as any back. He has a boxer’s footwork. We have seen him make people look silly in training. He can beat people for fun. He’s very quick and very elusive, with good offloading skills. His skill-set is pretty unique. Not many back rowers have that.
“He is very much like Justin Tipuric to my mind. He has similar traits.
“He has that bit of magic that makes you go ‘Wow, that is brilliant’.”
It must be a source of pride, then, that Basham has now emerged on the Test stage, with the youngster arguably Wales’ player of the recent autumn series.
Noting that Wales had seen a couple of new players emerge, Jackman said: “They’ve found Taine Basham from the Dragons. He’s phenomenal and he’s had a massive series.
“I think they’ve found a long-term successor to Alun Wyn Jones in Ellis Jenkins.
“They’ve a load of good nines, on paper they’ve good 10s.”
Pivac can take solace from how Wales proved so many wrong in the 2021 Six Nations after being written off this time last year, while his team will be reinforced by the return of a number of injured players.
Even so, that they will need to defy the odds again isn’t in doubt.