Wales have had an inconsistent Six Nations campaign ahead of hosting France in their final game at the Principality Stadium this weekend.
They began with a dominant and classy victory over a strong Scotland side, before falling short at Twickenham against England and losing to the eventual winners Ireland.
The Welsh managed to bounce back with another bonus point display against Italy at the Principality Stadium last weekend to take them into second place.
Here are the five things we’ve learnt from that victory over the Italians:
1) Battle For Places In The Back Row
Since the start of the campaign, Wales have used multiple combinations in the back row with Aaron Shingler and Josh Navidi impressive over the first few rounds.
At the weekend it was Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau and debutant James Davies opportunity to impress Warren Gatland and co, that they deserve to keep that jersey. Being British and Irish Lions, everyone knows what Tipuric and Faletau bring to the team with both producing typical solid displays including a try for Tipuric.
James Davies on the other hand felt he had something to prove on his debut after constantly being overlooked by Wales, despite arguably being the best open side in the country over the last two or three years.
‘Cubby boi’ showed a lot of promise on his debut, making more tackles than any of his team-mates, despite only being on the pitch for 65 minutes, while also looking dangerous with ball in hand.
The question every Welsh fan is wondering – who will Warren Gatland choose to take on France?
The Welsh selectors have a difficult decision on their hands with the strength in depth and the back row being impressive throughout the campaign.
2) George North back to his best?
George North returned to the starting line up against Italy for the first time in this years tournament and he marked his return with a vintage North display.
The Northampton Saints wing was attempting to get his hands on the ball at every opportunity. North beat three defenders and made 105 meters in the match, including two tries.
North looked fresh and re-energised in the Welsh shirt and on this form it’s impossible to keep him out of the side. With the back three options becoming competitive for places and depth, it’s the perfect time for North to return to form.
3) Has Hadleigh Parkes become indispensable for Wales?
Hadleigh Parkes may have been winning just his fifth cap, but he’s quickly become ‘Mr Indispensable’ in the Wales midfield.
His man-of-the-match performance showed he’s got the traits most New Zealand rugby players possess, namely that they do the basics well and have an innate ability to do the right thing at the right time.
One piece of play in the first half may have gone unnoticed by many, but it was pure class. He fielded a poor pass but didn’t put a team-mate in trouble by shipping the ball on, instead calmly looking up, seeing space and landing his kick on a sixpence in the target area. It summed up the composure of the 30-year-old, who was largely unheralded in his homeland.
Like a fine wine from his hometown of Hunterville – he seems to be getting better with age. There’s nothing flash about him but he’s hugely effective at what he does, whether it’s passing, running straight, defending or just reading play.
Parkes is quickly becoming indispensable for Wales, he provides the glue a midfield needs to flourish and you can be certain he will be one of the first names on Warren Gatland’s teamsheet for next Saturday’s Six Nations finale with France in Cardiff.
4) Fly half dilemma
Similar to the back row situation, Warren Gatland has a dilemma on who to select at fly half, when deciding the team to take on the French this week. Will Gareth Anscombe keep the shirt following the Italian game or will there be a recall for either Rhys Patchell or Dan Biggar?
Rhys Patchell impressed against Scotland in the opening weekend and there were high hopes for him this championship.
The Scarlet fly half struggled at Twickenham and was harshly dropped from the squad away to Ireland. But, similar to how Wales campaign has gone, Patchell came off the bench against Italy and looked back to his threatening, impressive self.
Dan Biggar marked his return to the national set up against Ireland and it was a day to forget for the fly half. At fault for one of the Irish tries and failed to impress throughout, similar to Patchell he was dropped from the squad to take on Italy. Biggar will be hoping for redemption, if he gets the chance, this weekend against France.
Gareth Anscombe, the man currently holding the 10 jersey, has had a quietly impressive campaign. Coming off the bench and starting fullback in the first three matches, he impressed once moved into fly half, looking dangerous with ball in hand.
The Cardiff Blues player finally got his chance to stake a claim against Italy, but Wales looked better when Patchell entered the game, replacing Anscombe.
Plenty of selection headaches for Gatland and co, with fly half one of the main and more interesting dilemma’s.
5) Wales up to second
Thanks to Wales’ victory and England’s surprising defeat in France, the Welsh have moved up to second in the standings, with Ireland already crowned champions.
A bonus point victory over France will guarantee the Welsh second place, which could be considered a success and a step in the right direction in preparing for the World Cup next year.