January 2012 Archives
With the team selection having been delayed and Wales waiting on the fitness of several key players I've been wondering who Wales could do with most for the trip to Ireland on the weekend.
Firstly we have the players who we already know will not make it, and the list does not make pleasant reading. Probable first choice second row pairing of Luke Charteris and Alun Wyn Jones will both be absent. It is good to see that Wales now have some depth at lock because losing our first choice second row combination in previous seasons would have been a disaster. It is comforting to see that Bradley Davies and Ian Evans are waiting in the wings as back up, in my opinion both deserve a chance on Sunday.
One man Wales can't replace is Gethin Jenkins. Paul James has never let anyone down in a Welsh shirt but he can't compete with what Jenkins offers around the park. I can't think of a prop who has ever played the game that has the same level of mobility and fitness as Gethin Jenkins. We will miss him terribly in Ireland because I believe that the Irish scrum could be got at by Wales, even in Jenkins' abscence it is an area we have to attack.
On so onto those who may yet make it. Firstly, Rhys Priestland. Priestland remains one of the finds of the World Cup. He get's more out of the centres outside him. He put's the ball in front of the likes of Roberts and forces them to attack the line at full tilt. It would be a real shame if he does not get a start and a chance to build on what he has achieved in the last 12 months.
Finally we come to Dan Lydiate. A player who may also yet make the big game on Sunday. As you may have guessed already (I put a photograph of him at the top of the blog) he is the player I am most keen to see fit for the Ireland game.
Why? Well to begin with I am a very big fan of Lydiate and his nothing fancy, happy to get his hands dirty approach to the game. If there were an official Dan Lydiate fan club I would certainly be a fully paid up member and possibly even the club president.
More importantly, Lydiate was made to take on this Irish team. You will hear this a couple more times this week I'm sure, but the Irish back row are really very good. They are particularly good going forward, carrying the ball with purpose and crushing all that stand in their path.
When the two teams last met in Wellington it was Dan Lydiate that made the difference. That day many in red shirt had a special game but for me Lydiate was the stand out. He nulified the threat of the Irish back row completely. I honestly don't think they knew what hit them that day. Unlike some of the other players we will miss, I don't see a natural repalcement for Lydiate. I would opt for Ryan Jones who is playing very well, but he is more in the mould of his Irish opposite numbers. An attacking, ball carrying palyer. He can't match Lydiate when playing the the backfoot, which I think Wales will have to do a fair amount of this weekend.
Fingers crossed for Dan.
Fingers crossed for Wales.
Stephen Jones's late call up to the squad cannot really be labelled a shock. Let's review here: the man has 104 caps for Wales, has made 307 appearances for the Scarlets alone and currently lies second in the all-time points table for Europe's premier club competition the Heineken Cup. Experience like that is invaluable, and his inclusion now only makes his omission last week all the more baffling.
I noted at the time of the Welsh training squad's announcement that there was surprisingly little cover options at stand-off; and lo and behold the incumbent 10 Rhys Priestland limped off the field in the final Heineken pool game of the season with what looks to be a reasonably serious knee injury. That leaves James Hook and Gavin Henson as the only clear options at fly-half... if you can call them that.
Hook, a vastly talented player renowned the world over is not by a long shot a consistent starter in the Wales first XV. Perhaps cursed by his plethora of talents on the field, the former Osprey has been shunted from 10, to 12, to 15 without being able to nail down any one position. The label of 'utility player' has been more of a hinderance than a help to him, as it has turned out with fellow Welshman Jonathan Thomas in recent times.
Henson... is there much to say that hasn't already been said? Everyone has their own opinion about whether his inclusion in the preliminary squad was justified. I myself think he is a hugely talented player, but 3 games for the Blues in two different positions for me isn't enough justification for inclusion in the national set-up. He's been out of rugby, let alone Welsh rugby, for quite awhile and thrusting him back in after only a few months is a very risky gamble.
That said, the Gatland-era hasn't exactly been gamble and risk-free. Many argued the selection (albeit last-minute) of Priestland at fly-half in the summer was a risk; he ended up being lauded as one of the best 10s in the tournament and a major player to watch out for in years to come. Gambling on either Hook or Henson at fly-half could turn out to be a masterstroke. But the fact remains, neither have really proven themselves internationally in this position, and arguably both function much better at first-receiver, operating inside a consistent fly-half.
With the injury toll mounting, it looks as though Wales could make the trip over to Ireland missing a third of their team; Priestland, Dan Lydiate and Gethin Jenkins all suffered injuries last weekend and preferred second row partnership Alun Wyn Jones and Luke Charteris are both still carrying injuries. So many frontline players missing in a tough tournament like the Six Nations surely calls for a calm head and experience - no one epitomises these qualities quite like Stephen Jones.
It may be Superstitious, but I've always thought Jones has to be included, precisely for times like these. And For Once In My Life, it looks like I may be right..
Hats off to the coaching team down at the Cardiff Blues. To be the only Welsh side to reach the quarter finals of the Heineken Cup is a big achievement. I think that Gareth Baber and Justin Burnell have done a great job so far this season at the Blues, when you consider how little experience both have in high end team manager roles like they have now.
It was also impressive to see the way Baber managed to put a positive spin on the Blues eventual seeding and draw. I'm sure Blues fans will have been disapointed with Edinburgh beating them to the top spot in the group and a home quarter final but Baber has almost managed to make it sound like a good thing.
He has done well to do so because in my opinion The Blues could not have had a tougher draw. Right now Leinster is the most difficult away trip in all of European rugby. It's tougher than Munster and any of the great French strongholds like Toulouse or Clermont Auverne. It makes a trip to the likes of Saracens or Leicester seem like an afternoon picking wildflowers.
The Blues have already been beaten there once this season by 52 points to 9, although at the time they were far from being at full strength. They aren't the only ones to get hammered at the RDS either, English giants Bath shipped 52 points there as well in the Heineken Cup group stages.
Still, for now lets just be glad they have made it and give us a great game to look forward to after the Six Nations.
The Wales training squad was announced on Wednesday, and in case fans weren't sufficiently on edge, there were one or two surprises. Those six uncapped players named will initially feel they are riding on the crest of a post-World Cup wave, but any notion they might have of being on a gravy train will be rudely shattered by the time they arrive in Poland. That way madness lies, mostly in the form of freezing temperatures that would have made Captain Scott think twice about getting out of his tent.
There was no room for my outside bet Aaron Shingler, but such is the strength of Wales' back-row options that it was always going to be a tough proposition for the flanker. It is, however, another Wales 7s player who proved the biggest shock of the announcement.
Last year, Blues wing Harry Robinson became the youngest player to turn out for the region at 17 years and nine months old. While Tom Prydie comparisons abound, Gatland has been amply impressed by the Pentyrch product to include him in the training squad. If pocket rocket Robinson gives a good account of himself, he could be one of the revelations of Welsh rugby this year. It must be remembered, though, that the Test match arena is an unforgiving place, where the public isn't as quick to forgive mistakes as they might be on a rainy afternoon in Rodney Parade.
It remains to be seen if such leftfield choices -especially that of Scarlets prop Rhodri Jones, used so sparingly by his region- have more to do with future plans. Jonathan Thomas might wonder what he has done wrong not to be in the squad, so valuable is he to the Ospreys season by season.
The absence of Ospreys hooker Richard Hibbard is a surprise. If there is a more powerful running number two in the land, he should make himself known. Gatland, a former hooker himself, must have seen something we haven't, and Scott Johnson recently pointed out that he believes Hibbard has fitness issues. It's hard not to feel sorry for him, because he has performed so strongly of late.
Wales will this time around be based in the historic Polish city of Gdansk. The Germans know it as Danzig, and it was here that the Second World War officially started, when two-and-a-half thousand Nazis made surprisingly hard work of overcoming 250 or so brave Polish soldiers. The battle took seven days to end, and one of the darkest periods in modern history had begun. Wales, on the other hand, are looking to take on the world in an altogether more positive way. Here's hoping it starts in Gdansk.
On the subject of outside-the-box training venues, England interim coach Stuart Lancaster has nixed a planned pre-tournament trip to Portugal and taken his side to a modest rugby club in Leeds, hoping it will bring the players down to earth after some of their recent hedonistic travails. Will it work, though? If Lancaster wanted to truly humble his players, he could have the team bus pitch up in a township in Malawi and really give them a jolt. If nothing, it would ensure better press coverage. Secretly, he might believe that the further he gets away from Fleet Street, the better. The power of the broadsheets and tabloids alike piled the pressure on his predecessor Martin Johnson, and while Lancaster is a PR man's dream, he knows that one false move will add fuel to an as yet placid fire.
Johnson never got to grips with the whole media circus, often showing a complete disregard for it, which did little to help his team when news broke of Mike Tindall et al playing up in Queenstown's answer to the weird, nightmarish bar in Star Wars. The shunned rugby writers simply order the 'Code Red' on England Rugby, and the fallout was there for everybody to see.
Lancaster has taken the Warren Gatland approach to speaking to journalists: with honesty, wit and good grace. So far, it has paid off, despite not a minute of rugby having been played.
It has been well publicised that the humble and likeable Lancaster has organised for some 'special speakers' to address his new-look team. These include the performance director of British Cycling and the managing director of England cricket. To ensure this doesn't end up feeling like a business conference in Slough, they will also be hearing from rugby league stars Jamie Peacock and Kevin Sinfield, a former soldier wounded in Iraq, and footballer Gary Neville.
It's surely come to something when you need to point out to a group of players how much representing their country should mean to them (especially when the speakers themselves aren't from the world of rugby union). Peacock and Sinfield are more understandable choices than, say, Gary Neville, a man who, by his own admission, never really enjoyed playing international football for his country (if you read his book anyway) and preferred playing for Manchester United.
The past tells us that such incongruous outside influences tend to have adverse effects. Take the 2007 French rugby side who, during the World Cup on their home turf, paid a visit to a graveyard for soldiers who fell in the the First World War. The players were said to be so affected by a letter which was recited to them, written by a young boy who died on the battlefield, that they blamed their semi-final capitulation to the English on the lingering tristesse felt by the reading.
Former Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell, the unlikeliest of Lions tourists in 2005, struck a similarly offbeat, if not downright inappropriate note when asked by Clive Woodward to talk to his squad before facing the All Blacks. How did the Prince of Darkness choose to motivate a roomful of athletes on the verge of reaching the pinnacle of their professional careers? By giving them a PowerPoint presentation on the Kosovo conflict. As The Thick of It's Campbell-inspired Malcolm Tucker would say (and to continue the war theme), it was like watching "a clown running across a minefield".
Having said that, there are some great examples of inspirational speakers. Insight into pre-match speeches are few and far between due to their private nature, but thanks to the beloved British and Irish Lions and all the media that follows, we've been allowed a glimpse of some stirring oration. How could the 2001 Lions not win their first test following the rousing talk delivered by a Lions legend, Willie John McBride? They didn't.
There aren't many rugby followers out there who haven't seen the 1997 Lions video, the Citizen Kane of rugby films. Jim Telfer's 'This is your Everest' speech, delivered in that low Scottish brogue, added to the cinematic feel of one of the most feelgood sporting documentaries ever made.
Lawrence Dallaglio's poignant speech to the 2005 Lions, replete with that quivering granite jaw, cut rugby down to its essence. Of all the wrong notes struck on that tour, this one was perfect. Despite the result that was to follow, Dallaglio's searing honesty and emotion encapsulated modern international rugby impeccably: "It's not just about you. It's about all the people who make you the person you are. That's what goes into that shirt. There's people watching all over the world who've helped you, who've put you in this room. You've got to find a little extra for them - whether they're alive, or whether they're dead."
Dallaglio has experienced personal tragedies in his life, but his grit and determination fuelled his drive to win every major trophy available to him with England and London Wasps, the club to which he was unfailingly loyal throughout his career - a rarity in the era of the French exodus. Personally, I would much rather hear from a man who has truly bled for his country on the rugby field. I don't think Gary Neville can say he's done the same.
Finally, a quick look at post-match excuses. In all probability, Leicester Tigers coach Richard Cockerill was right when he said that his side can't financially compete with the likes of Ulster. This was in light of Tigers being stuffed 41-7 at Ravenhill, not before the match you understand, so it was the timing of the comment that seemed quite churlish. If Leicester had won, no doubt the Tigers would have felt an emotion along the lines of, "even with all their money they can't beat us". Except when they do, it's back to the old excuses.
Does it not insult Cockerill's squad when, in essence, he is saying Ulster can afford to buy better players? What the Castrogiovannis, Tuilagis and Crofts made of that comment will remain behind closed doors, no doubt. It is a blessing that Cockerill is the outspoken man that he is, because he never makes for a boring interview, but this wasn't his greatest excuse for losing; especially when Tigers had won the reverse fixture.
Backs: Mike Phillips (Bayonne), Lloyd Williams (Cardiff Blues), Rhys Webb (Ospreys), Rhys Priestland (Scarlets), James Hook (Perpignan), Jamie Roberts (Cardiff Blues), Jonathan Davies (Scarlets), Scott Williams (Scarlets), Gavin Henson (Cardiff Blues), Ashley Beck (Ospreys), George North (Scarlets), Leigh Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues), Alex Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues), Harry Robinson (Cardiff Blues), Liam Williams (Scarlets), Lee Byrne (Clermont Auvergne)
Forwards: Craig Mitchell (Exeter Chiefs), Adam Jones (Ospreys), Ryan Bevington (Ospreys), Gethin Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), Paul James (Ospreys), Rhys Gill (Saracens), Rhodri Jones (Scarlets), Matthew Rees (Scarlets), Huw Bennett (Ospreys), Ken Owens (Scarlets), Bradley Davies (Cardiff Blues), Ian Evans (Ospreys), Lou Reed (Scarlets), Ryan Jones (Ospreys), Dan Lydiate (Newport Gwent Dragons), Sam Warburton (capt, Cardiff Blues), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys), Toby Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons), Andy Powell (Sale Sharks).
Well the squad's in, all bets are off. As expected, Gatland sprung a few surprises in his 35-man training squad, both in terms of inclusions and omissions.
There are of course those who were dead-certs before this morning - I'm talking Priestland, Jon Davies, Roberts, North, Warburton, Rees, Jenkins et. al. Much of the squad has been dictated for by form, previous inclusion and general performance levels come big game time.
However, there were a few surprise inclusions in the shape of Scarlets lock Lou Reed and to some extent scrum-half Rhys Webb, who definitely deserves his call-up, but who has been criminally underplayed by the Ospreys. The always controversial figure of Gavin Henson was included in a selection that had been telegraphed for weeks - I doubt many were totally shocked to hear his illustrious name read out. Whether or not his inclusion is warranted after a mere 3 games for new club Cardiff Blues is up for debate, as are his chances of making it into the final cut for the tournament after the Poland training camps. Given the stellar selection Wales have at their disposal in the midfield: Davies, Roberts, Scott Williams, Ashley Beck and potentially James Hook, it is more than plausible that Gav's lack of match fitness could cost him a final place for the Six Nations this year.
There have been a few eyebrows raised at the omission of in-form lock Dominic Day of the Scarlets, although the boiler-room positions are also hotly contested this season. Day's recent run of injuries could account for him missing out this time, but he is surely a player for the future. It is omissions like Day, Dwayne Peel, Gareth Davies, Jason Tovey and Aled Brew that seem to make a pretty good case for the re-formation of the Wales 'A' side, both to stave off any future furore akin to that of Shingler-gate and to ensure the ever increasing flow of promising Welsh talent is not lost to the international stage.
Another surprising omission is that of any real in-depth cover at fly-half. Veteran Stephen Jones's absence is not in itself hugely surprising, given his omission from the squad to take on Australia in December also; but the fact that Priestland and Hook are the only outside-halves in the squad could prove costly - let's take the example of Priestland's untimely injury in the World Cup knock-out stages as a cautionary tale.
Given the miracles Gatland, Howley, McBryde and Edwards worked with a relatively young squad over the summer, it would be well-advised to wait and see before criticising the selection. With so many vast numbers of in-form Welsh players, the national selectors can never please everyone.
Warren Gatland is set to announce his RBS 6 nation's squad on Wednesday 18th January at the Millennium Stadium and there is a growing clamor for Ashley Beck to take one of the centre berths. It's easy to see why. Beck's recent performances for the Ospreys are worthy of test rugby and this week they led Sean Holley, the Ospreys coach, to comment that "Ashley has to be knocking on the door for Welsh honours".
But these aren't the pushy comments of a regional coach trying to squeeze one of his players into contention for a Welsh cap (although some of the Osprey backline could do with a little positive propaganda), Beck would provide Gatland with a skillset that neither Jamie Roberts, Jon Davies or Scott Williams possess.
Ashley Beck is a rarity in Welsh rugby, indeed world rugby. The modern game has bred a generation of one dimensional centres whose primary focus is the gain-line and getting over it. The problem is that whilst many of these behemoths are efficient in getting over the gain-line, once they arrive there they lack the distribution skills to link with their support runners.
But Beck is different. In a game where 'destructive' skill sets have become desirable in the 12 and 13 shirts, Beck has developed a 'constructive' repertoire.
Many modern centres adopt a body angle which is already trained towards the ground before they've even approached contact. It's like watching an episode of Wales' Strongest Man where the object is to grit your teeth and drag as many back row forwards as far as you can until you are finally toppled by two halfbacks hanging off your neck. Yet Beck has a rare upright running style reminiscent of Will Greenwood, which when combined with two handed ball carrying allows him to offload before, during and beyond the contact situation.
Another key feature of Beck's constructive skill set is his ability to constantly scan the field of play even when running at full tilt. Whilst the rest of his body is playing professional rugby, his head often appears to be watching a frantic '5-setter 'at Wimbledon. This lateral scanning means that he's aware of his support runners and rarely ends up giving sloppy passes to the wings - the sort that of pass that has cost Wales a few tries in recent months.
Whilst his body position and awareness are impressive, it is his distribution skills that set him apart from Wales other more one dimensional centres - rugby may have become all about 'the inches', but sometimes it's still about the 30 yard pass. Beck passes supremely off both hands, and it is a skill that Gatland hasn't had at his disposal for some time. The ability to pass long off both hands becomes particularly important when teams operate an aggressive blitz defence. The blitz defence may be very effective at stopping the ball flowing through the backline, but if you can pass over the top of it, as Saracens proved against the Ospreys in Wembley, there's often a lot of fragmented space on the outside
Ashley Beck's deft skillset may lead you to believe that he isn't built for the impact of the 12/13 channel, yet it couldn't be further from the truth. Beck stands at 6'3" and weights 15st 7lbs; core stats that put him up there with the 'bang merchants' of world rugby. It's just in a rugby world where everyone seems obsessed with the leg drive; its Beck's hands that rightly attract the attention. Taking an average of the last three games that Beck, Roberts, Jon Davies and Scott Williams have played, Beck has thrown 50% more passes than each of them - and not the sort of no-look passes that fly directly into touch when there's a clear overlap.
Ashley Beck has had a very good start to the season and he offers Gatland a constructive skillset that none of the World Cup centres can currently provide. But whether a Welsh callup Beck-ons now, or on the summer tour of Australia, remains to be seen.
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According to a reliable source, the Franks brothers, All Black props Owen and Ben, are on their way to Swansea. Whether this has anything to do with their supposedly opening up a new CrossFit gym within the Ospreys' training base is yet to be seen. Is there a chance either/both of them might be joining the Swansea region? While the former is more likely, we all know speculation is what makes the rugby world go round.
If you're not au fait with CrossFit, depending on who you speak to, it's either the greatest thing the fitness world has seen since Jane Fonda's exercise videos hit the shelves, or a dangerous fad that reportedly once caused one of its disciples' bone marrow to leak into his bloodstream.
CrossFit is a multi-discipline method of exercising, with sets completed in as fast a time as possible. A session could see you sprinting, powerlifting, rowing and rope-climbing, all in one go. The Franks brothers are famously mad for it, to the extent that they are opening up their own international CrossFit chain. Doubters have called it glorified supersetting ('supersets' being the combination of two or more exercises in one workout), and argue that to label it CrossFit is to reinvent the wheel.
Conversely, its followers have a crazed look of passion in their eyes about it that you may have seen before. Perhaps in the faces of religious fanatics stamping on burning flags, for example. Of course, I would recommend athletic extremism over the religious kind any day of the week, but you know what I'm getting at.
To reinforce my point, many CrossFitters are adhering to the 'Paleo Diet' (short for Paleolithic, if you're into the whole brevity thing). So called because it harks back to the Paleolithic era where you ate what you hunted, it's also known as the 'Caveman diet', and entails avoiding such things as sugar, potatoes, salt, legumes and grains - many of the good things in life, I'm sure you'll agree.
The emphasis is for your diet to be as close to that of your ancestors living some tens of thousands of years ago. The old 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' adage is taken to the -that word again- extreme, but with growing numbers taking the caveman approach, might there be something to be said for it? It stands to reason, however, that in the Paleolithic era, life expectancy was considerably lower than in modern times. Nowadays, people can quite happily live to the age of ninety on a diet of Werther's Originals and porridge.
Its competitive nature has inevitably led to CrossFit tournaments, and in the female category of UK challengers is Wales Women's rugby player Caryl James, who rumour has it could be challenging for a place in the top US competition. She is one of many rugby players, and teams, who have caught the bug. If you were so inclined, you could find numerous videos online of James 'the Brand' Haskell doing CrossFit in a warehouse in London. (This warehouse, incidentally, looks exactly like the one featured in the classic crime caper 'A Fish Called Wanda'; something I'll be looking into.)
With the likely departure of prop Adam Jones at the end of the season -coupled with the Craig Mitchell's recent move to Exeter Chiefs- a Franks brother would without doubt plug that considerable gap nicely for the Ospreys. By the same token, the need to bring through more Welsh props is vital too, so let's assume they're just in Swansea to spread the mad, mad gospel of CrossFit.
The Heineken Cup has crept back up on us, and before we know it the Six Nations will be here. These two competitions -the most prestigious of their kind in Europe- go hand in hand for Welsh players, because the next fortnight will be decisive in terms of selection for the national squad.
Like the youngster eagerly trying to impress his dad with his football skills down the park, those aiming to make the cut will be wondering, 'Was Gats watching?' over the coming weeks. Poppa Gatland needs his Welsh boys to be ultra competitive if they are to vie for his affection successfully.
On Saturday, Scarlets take on Northampton Saints, whom they comprehensively beat last time out. It would be a real shock if Jim Mallinder's men were routed in the same manner this time, even away at Parc y Scarlets, but it should prove the best of all the Welsh encounters. Saints' England contingent will be looking to continue the form they showed in battering the table-topping Quins recently. Ashton, Foden, Hartley: even Blues fans will be cheering on the Scarlets after their grudge-making Heineken run-ins with Saints last season.
As for Blues (like Scarlets, second in their pool), they visit London Irish in Reading, which is a hard one to call given both sides' mediocre form of late. The promise of a great team lies somewhere within the Cardiff region, but performances like the one against Leinster on Saturday (where, amazingly, they lost by only four points) lead to fears that it will remain just that - a promise.
But the underwhelming feeling surrounding Blues pales in comparison to the one engulfing Ospreys. Third in their pool with a solitary win against Biarritz, they need to convincingly destroy any Treviso hopes of an upset at the Liberty; one which the Italians might feel is a possibility given their misfortune in drawing at home to the Swansea side. While second in the Pro12, Ospreys have scored seven fewer tries than ninth-placed Edinburgh, and nine fewer than league leaders Leinster. On paper, this should be the one of the most successful attacking teams in Europe. Bizarre.
Dragons, in the Amlin Challenge Cup, enjoy a considerably lighter weight of expectation from the Welsh public. In one of the more exciting games of the past few weeks, they beat Ospreys at Rodney Parade, with Toby Faletau showing himself to be ahead of any other player (bar perhaps Sam Warburton) in the Welsh management's reckoning. The speed with which he runs onto the ball is phenomenal, as is pretty much everything else he does. Dragons take on Perpignan at the infamous Stade Aimé Giral, where James Hook will also hope to shine in his preferred number ten position.
While Gatland admits his side for the Six Nations will be largely unchanged from the one that caused a stir at the World Cup, don't count against one or two bolters making the squad. For me, they would be Ospreys centre Ashley Beck and Scarlets flanker Aaron Shingler. Saracens' Rhys Gill should certainly make the squad, adding to his sole cap from the bench in last season's competition. For somebody who has performed marvellously in the best forward pack in the Premiership, not to be in the Welsh squad would be criminal. He is, put simply, the future at loosehead prop.
The next two weeks will be crucial.
I was saddened to hear today that former Dragons Captain Tom Willis has been forced into retirement by a hand injury.
Willis is exactly the kind of front five forward that The Dragons need right now. Experienced, tough and uncomprimising. If there is a silver lining to this it is that there may now be some money available to recruit a replacement. In Willis' absence Lloyd Burns has emerged as a quality option at hooker so if I were Darren Edwards I would make a top class prop my top priority, also if I had any change I would also start searching for a second row capable of filling Luke Charteris' gigantic boots.
It was clear to see that Willis was well respected and liked down at Rodney Parade. Darren Edwards has spoken very highly of him as someone who helped to galvanise and lead this young Dragons side. His departure will put pressure on the remaining senior Dragons players, as this side hopes to climb away from the lower ends of The Pro 12 league.