Well, what a disappointment that was two weeks ago! Wales’ Six Nations hopes crashed and burned in an abject second half performance. Despite a 9-13 half-time lead there were no points scored by Rob Howley’s men in the last 40 minutes and they were deservedly beaten.
There of course was a few reasons behind it, individual defensive errors and the big talking point was around a decision of whether to kick at goal or not at one point, but the big issue for me was a total and utter lack of any sort of effective attack.
It’s not something that’s happened overnight, despite Rob Howley’s insistence, it’s been coming for a while, and now that the players have been so indoctrinated in the Team Wales style of play they are completely telegraphed and far too predictable for opposition defences to figure out. Turn up against the Welsh with an outside blitzer and a strong midfield and you’ll be laughing all the way to a win.
Has there been any of the ‘evolution, which we were told was needed rather than revolution, that was promised? In my eyes, no. Far too often we see one-up runners, just trucking the ball up to little or no avail, and if the ball does go wide at all it gets quickly bogged down in the centres. Same old, same old.
The classic Akon song seems apt for the Wales attack at points, as Rob Howley and puppet attack coach Alex King seem to have never heard of the phrase ‘attacking pods’. Back play is effectively non-existent, with the only tactic seeming to be surrounding Scott Williams, and on occasion Jon Davies, running a direct line straight into their opposite numbers.
It’s fair to say that Jonathan Davies isn’t the biggest culprit of this, many believe he’s been one of few positives of the campaign thus far and he’s certainly looked our biggest danger in attack aside from Liam Williams. However, the game plan sucks him up on occasion and he goes alone here, Scotland wrap him up and soon, although Foxy has the power to get over the gainline, any hope of quick ball is lost.
You can see here Dan Biggar with his hands up ready for the ball here, and there’s a very tempting move with George North out the back door and Liam Williams on the far side, but no, we ignore the fly-half, the man supposedly running the game, go one-up runner and George North has to fight to free the ball. Quick ball lost, Scotland re-organise.
The very next phase Scotland can blitz, and it’s not hard to guess where to aim at, as the ball goes straight to Luke Charteris who knocks on. Not only is quick ball lost, now it’s possession.
For One Phase Only
What’s especially disappointing about the use of Scott Williams in the solo runner tactic is the amount of times we go to him from first phase ball off a set piece. Not even via Dan Biggar standing flat and having Scott run onto the ball, but with the inside centre at first receiver.
Twice we use this as shown above, and it happened on two more occasions where the ball was retained but with a long ruck time and little support for Williams. The pass is so long off the top of the lineout is blatantly obvious where the ball is going to go, and if the quality of said pass isn’t great, as per the first clip, it’s asking for serious trouble.
It’s massively frustrating to watch as, on the whole, that first phase from a lineout or scrum is the best attacking chance a team can have. Look at the opposition in this game, Scotland show exactly how dangerous it can be by getting consistently over the gainline and maintaining that quick ball. Do Wales have significantly less able players than the Scots? I’d argue no when they’re picked, and coached correctly.
STOP FORCING MIRACLES
I can’t even think of a witty sub-headline for this section, I’m still too annoyed at the never ending amount of unnecessary errors made by Welsh players when they did manage to make any sort of forward momentum or line break. Just take a look…
With the exception of the second clip, the offloads are not necessary, and even then it’s often the case in situations where a half-break occurs that going to ground and taking quick ball is better than trying to create a try scoring offload.
When you’ve come off the back of a disappointing performance against England, and you’re up against Scotland who you know are probably the most efficient attacking side in the tournament, to give possession up easily when the game plan should always have been to dominate territory and time with ball in hand is bizarre.
I think the most frustrating aspect to the whole situation is that when the backs play fast and simple rugby, they look quite good!
It’s not rocket science! These backs aren’t bad players, I’m convinced of that, but they are either too easily dictated by what Howley & co are passing on, or totally unable to read what’s in front of them.
Liam Williams is our best attacker without a doubt, Halfpenny still looks dangerous when he hits the line in a bit of space, and we saw what North can do against Italy. Move the ball through the midfield, let Scott and Foxy play like they do for Scarlets, and get the ball out wide in a bit of space.
Rugby isn’t a difficult game at it’s heart, and when you try and make it harder for yourselves at a time when confidence is low and other teams are playing better stuff than you, it’s suicidal.
The Irish Challenge
Against Ireland on Friday there’ll be two key things in attack, which sound contradictory, but I will explain.
A pacey yet simple attack will be key, but an ability to mix things up will be the clincher. I’m not talking about any complicated set piece moves or offensive patterns, I’m talking moving between someone taking the ball direct up the middle of the Irish defence, then on the next occasion it goes wide.
The telegraphed nature of the Welsh attack is it’s biggest downfall at the moment, and if it can be switched between directness, width and challenging the Irish back three under the high ball then it’s probably the only chance Wales have.
Personally, I’d like to have seen a few changes to the backline for the visit of Ireland, I’d have looked at a 10/12 combination of Sam Davies and Owen Williams, with one of Scott Williams and Jon Davies to sit out, while I definitely would have swapped Leigh Halfpenny and Liam Williams, with the possibility of Steff Evans starting on the wing.
We are where we are though, and Wales can win on Friday, however I’m not confident. Rob Howley is fast showing his incompetence and if we aren’t careful we will lose not just the game on Friday and the Six Nations, but a whole generation of international rugby players.
It’s almost become a joke now, the way Howley is running the ship, which is extremely sad, but I live in hope that something will click in someone’s head and the players will awaken to realise their full potential again. It really is the hope that kills you.