Rhys Webb has fought his way into Warren Gatland’s plans. Tonight he can put doubts to bed, as he faces a massive challenge in the form of England. Brian Barry ponders if he can drive Wales to a 6 Nations title.
While it may have gone somewhat unnoticed during the November internationals, there was a seismic shift in the half-backs for Wales, as Warren Gatland opted not to back Mike Phillips as his starting scrum-half facing into a World Cup year.
Despite doing little wrong, the Racing Metro star fell surplus to requirements in the Kiwi’s plans, facing into a crucial 12 months of his reign.
Wales have enjoyed the luxury of boasting some of the world’s finest scrum-halves in recent years. At 26, Rhys Webb joins this long list. However, Gatland stays true to his values, as Webb is another powerful 9.
At 6 foot and 14 stone, 9 pounds, the Ospreys man more than holds his own facing up against opposition forwards. Unlike Phillips’ direct style however, Webb is an expert of exploiting gaps in defence. This forces the flankers to stay on their toes, and affords his out-half that extra second of relief from the onrushing defence.
Ospreys sit pretty atop the Guinness Pro 12 table, as the 6 Nations kicks-off. This is in no small part thanks to the fine form of Webb.
Webb partners international teammate Dan Biggar in the half-backs for the region. Biggar and Webb seem to have a telepathic understanding of one another, and the more they play together, the more they are improving.
The pair impressed throughout the autumn series, and Gatland seems to have found his platform as Wales enter 2015 eager for World Cup glory.
Tonight’s game offers Rhys Webb with an interesting challenge. Facing off against Ben Youngs alone is a challenge for any scrum-half, but Chris Robshaw and James Haskell will ensure the Welshman does not have everything his own way in the Millennium Stadium.
England are a side who like to bully teams physically, especially at the breakdown. If Webb is able to provide clean ball to the back-line, while keeping the English defence guessing, this could be the key to winning the game.
Considering why Webb has been opted ahead of Phillips is an interesting question. While the Welsh backline is an attack-focused unit, oozing power and pace, removing Phillips from the equation seems a strange option.
Webb’s willingness to go himself may disrupt the tempo of the backs, but can offer a quicker platform when giving the ball out. The aforementioned partnership with Biggar will also have stood to him.
If given the right ball, Biggar can pull the strings of this devastating set of backs. Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davis in the midfield can punch holes in a defence, while outside, the awesome trio of George North, Alex Cuthbert and Leigh Halfpenny add speed in abundance.
This is simply to highlight the raw skill of the Welsh backs, and ergo the importance of giving them the right chance to expose the English tonight.
Rhys Webb’s meteoric rise has not been down to opportunity, rather hard work and proving himself to the management.
He has dislodged one of the finest scrum-halves in the Northern Hemisphere. However, his place is not guaranteed, and he must cement it over the coming weeks. This writer is backing Webb to do so, beginning with a big performance tonight.
Brian Barry, Pundit Arena.