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Write Wales off at your peril

INTERVIEW: “Don’t write us off” was the message from Adam Beard as a new-look Wales prepared to open their Six Nations Championship campaign against Scotland in Cardiff on Saturday.

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Wales, fresh from a quarterfinal appearance at last year’s World Cup in France, go into the tournament without several senior players, the likes of veteran backs Leigh Halfpenny and Dan Biggar having both retired from the Test scene, while wing Louis Rees-Zammit tries his hand at American football.

Meanwhile, a lengthy injury list has deprived Wales of George North, Taulupe Faletau and Jac Morgan among others for this weekend’s encounter.

Scotland finished third to Wales’ fifth in last season’s Six Nations but the fact remains it is 22 years since the Scots last won in the Welsh capital, a run of 11 straight defeats that includes nine Championship encounters.

Nevertheless, they will hope to end that dismal sequence against a Wales matchday 23 selected by coach Warren Gatland where 10 players have cap totals in single figures.

But 51-times capped Wales lock Beard insisted Friday: “Look, don’t write us off, whether it is new faces or not.

“When you put on that Welsh jersey you have got a job to do, and our job tomorrow is to get a victory over Scotland.

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“There is no better competition in the world than the Six Nations.

“[It is] a new-look squad, a lot of boys getting their opportunities to play in their first Six Nations, and there is no better way than to start at home.”

And there certainly appears to be no waning of international interest in the Championship, with tickets for the tournament purchased in 49 nations around the world, with the sports event marketplace reporting a 17 percent increase in Six Nations sales compared to the 2023 edition.

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Among those looking to make their mark at the 74,500 capacity stadium will be Cardiff fullback Cameron Winnett, given a Wales debut after just 15 professional games.

Winnett’s selection is far from the only bold call made by Gatland, with the hardened New Zealander appointing Dafydd Jenkins as captain, with the 21-year-old Exeter lock now Wales’ youngest skipper since 1968.

Gatland explained Winnett’s selection by saying: “You watch someone at training and that is where you get a feel for a player.

“He looks comfortable on the ball, he is good in the air, and when we had our selection meeting we just said, ‘let’s go for it. Let’s not be afraid to expose someone at this level’.

“It wasn’t a difficult decision for us to make when you see a player and think he is going to be a really good player in the future.”

He added: “Yes, we’ve lost a considerable amount of experience and players have moved on. But a lot of teams go through cycles, and I think we are at the start of an exciting cycle with this group of players.

“I couldn’t be happier with how they have trained and prepared.”

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