Analysis: Gatland must decide whether to stick or twist

Wales were staring defeat in the face when they went into half-time at the Stade de France trailing the hosts 16-0 in the opening match of the 2019 Guinness Six Nations.

Wales were staring defeat in the face when they went into half-time at the Stade de France trailing the hosts 16-0 in the opening match of the 2019 Guinness Six Nations.

That Warren Gatland’s side had the resolve and character to stage a remarkable second-half to down Les Bleus in Paris says a lot about their title credentials this year.

But while the 24-19 victory got their campaign off to a perfect start – and completed a record-breaking comeback – it also highlighted areas that need addressing in the Welsh camp.

Another away day awaits in Round Two as they travel to Rome to face Italy, who will be smarting from losing their opener against Scotland at BT Murrayfield at the weekend.

And Gatland knows the Azzurri are not a side who can be taken lightly. “They can make it difficult for you, and the weather conditions might play a big part,” he said.

“The last time I was there in 2015 it was 14-13 at half-time, and we scored 47 points in the second half, so you have just got to keep your patience.”

With Gatland poised to make several changes for Wales’ Stadio Olimpico test, there is plenty to ponder for the New Zealander he looks to build on the momentum for the weekend.

Young’s chance to shine?

After bruising encounter in Paris, Gatland has made it clear he intends to use his full squad of 31 players against Italy, with Wales looking for a 13th successive win against them.

One of those in contention to make his Guinness Six Nations debut will be Wasps flanker Thomas Young, who has been one of the most impressive back-rowers in the Premiership this season.

Young is part of the squad Wales have in Nice and, with only five back-rowers for Gatland to choose from, there is a good chance the 26-year-old will get his chance to shine.

He was named in the 2017 Championship squad under Rob Howley – while Gatland was on British and Irish Lions leave – but he didn’t feature in any of Wales’ five matches.

His Test debut did eventually come against Tonga on the summer tour that followed, but he has not played for his country since – although that could change on Saturday.

Wales forward coach Rob McBride said: “He is a consistent performer for Wasps every week. He’s playing in a league where there are big men week-in, week-out and the intensity is there.

“In defence he makes intelligent decisions of when to compete for the ball and in attack he links up with the backs. He is doing that here as well.”

Stick or twist at fly-half

Another burning question Gatland must answer ahead of the Italy game is whether he will stick with Gareth Anscombe at fly-half or start with Dan Biggar in Rome.

Following an impressive autumn series, Anscombe was given the vote of confidence against France in Paris as he started alongside Cardiff Blues teammate Tomos Williams.

But the 27-year-old was not at his best in the wet conditions at the Stade de France, with Biggar coming off the bench in the second period to assist the Welsh arrival.

Anscombe’s scrum-half partner Williams scored Wales’ opening try, with the No.10 added two conversions before Biggar added a penalty and conversion after his arrival.

Gatland could well see Italy as a chance to give Biggar a full audition, but Anscombe is widely considered to be the more attacking of the two and could do damage in Rome.

The scrum-half position also presents Gatland with another selection headache, with Williams doing enough in Paris to suggest he deserves another chance in the No.9 shirt.

Further exposure to competition rugby at this level will only benefit the youngster, although Gareth Davies and Aled Davies are both waiting in the wings and will be itching for game time.

Watch out for Italy reaction

While Gatland will certainly want to give a few more players a game against Italy, he has to be wary about making too many changes against an Italian side with a point to prove.

Conor O’Shea’s men, like Wales before them, did not get off to a great start in their opening match against Scotland and found themselves trailing 33-3 in the second half.

But the Azzurri rallied late on with three tries to show how dangerous they can be in attack – something Wales will be keen to avoid at the Stadio Olimpico.

So just how bold will Gatland be with his rotation?

Expect Owen Watkin to replace Hadleigh Parkes in midfield as Gatland looks to give him more international experience alongside the world class operator that is Jonathan Davies.

The back three should remain largely the same with George North, Liam Williams and Josh Adams all impressing in France, although don’t be surprised if Hallam Amos is given a run out.

Samson Lee and Aaron Wainwright could also come into the pack, with Gatland showing during the November Tests he is not afraid of testing the depth of his squad.