This, without any doubt, is a big year for Welsh rugby. Wales endured an awful Six Nations Championship in 2002 and confidence was ravaged, but since he took over from Graham Henry, coach Steve Hansen has lifted the spirit of the team. The domestic game in Wales has had its problems recently and I would love to see the Welsh brighten up the country with a good performance in this season's competition.
Hansen has simplified a previously overly-complicated and pre-programmed game plan, and turned the focus back to perfecting basic skills which people assumed would be excellent among a squad of international players, when in actual fact they needed a lot of work. The current Welsh side is certainly inexperienced and I do feel they are a bit light in certain areas, particularly inside centre where the loss of Sonny Parker to injury is a big setback.
Scott Quinnell's retirement from international rugby was also a massive blow, and his absence means Wales do not have a big ball-carrier. It has also increased the pressure on out-of-form Colin Charvis to rediscover his true standards, and there is a lot of responsibility on the more experienced players.
The absence of Quinnell means Wales must play a 15-man game and I believe the crucial players are going to be the half-backs. I don't expect, or want, Wales to be throwing the ball out wide on every occasion but their game must be mobile and fast-moving. Hansen doesn't really have the power up front to keep the ball in the forwards.
Most importantly, Wales can't afford passengers. The opening game against Italy should not be underestimated and I imagine the team will just be happy to avoid an upset there. The Italians are making the right noises, confidence is high, but this game, and the fixture with Scotland, are matches we can win.
It's a few years since I was involved in the Six Nations but it really is a unique tournament. In what other sport do you get 26,000 people travelling to away games? I do miss the occasion of playing in the competition and I expect the 2003 RBS Six Nations to be very special, as the competition always is. It's something we have a right to be proud of.
The 2017 RBS 6 Nations was watched by record numbers of fans
29 March 2017, 12:25pm
After an enthralling RBS 6 Nations Championship of twists, turns, and no small amount of drama on the last day, figures show the RBS 6 Nations is going from strength to strength, year on year, with no sign of slowing down.