Last Saturday saw Wales battle to a third straight test win over South Africa in Washington D.C, and a first ever win against them outside of Wales, as Warren Gatland’s men won out 22-20 against the Springboks.
However, it was nothing to get too over-hyped about as, even though Channel 4 tried their best to distract with some comically bad broadcasting, it was still plainly obvious that this game was not up to test match standard.
Both sides had put much-changed outfits out in America, with star players either rested or unavailable, and with the weather not helping much either it all made for a fairly tepid affair at the Robert F Kennedy Stadium.
The problems for Wales largely came as a result of the multiple changes, as most of the forwards had never played together before, the scrum-half was making his international debut, the centre partnership was all-new and included a natural winger, and the back three was fairly makeshift at senior level.
In defence there were obvious cohesion issues, especially early on when the blitz was doglegged with no clear defensive leader organising those around them.
Although South Africa don’t take advantage of the poor defensive spacing and odd line speeds in the Welsh defence in the first two clips, the third clip sees the Springboks made a line break far too easily and put in a dangerous kick which is only just dealt with on the scramble.
Against a more cohesive Argentinian attacking unit, who not only play together in the national team but also for Jaguares in Super Rugby, it should be expected that poor defensive organisation like this would be punished.
It wasn’t just in defence either, in attack too Wales struggled with a lack of cohesion and understanding of the games of their team-mates.
South Africa operated a very intense and well organised defensive blitz on Saturday, which frequently put the Welsh attack under pressure during phase play and stopped us building any sort of momentum over the 80 minutes.
One-out solo runners didn’t walk at all, at any point during the game, and when we did try to move it wide, too often we were caught just shipping the ball down the line which resulted in the Springboks intercepted try to get them back into the game.
Far too predictable in test match rugby.
The issue with the makeshift team selections are, as mentioned above, players aren’t used to the attacking games of their team-mates. They don’t know what angles are run, who likes to throw an offload, who is happy to take the ball to the line or which player is always looking on the blindside shoulder.
It was only when little flashes of cohesion were shown that there was actually hope Wales could create something in this game.
Although Wales tried to use a kicking game to overcome the South African blitz, generally it was shifting the point of attack that took the threat of the Springbok line speed away.
Whether that came through the screen pass, the runner from the blindside or just a simple pop pass between forwards, when there was some heads up rugby played to spot a chink in the blitz Wales were, on the whole, able to take advantage and garner some forward momentum.
Unfortunately we did not play this way enough, but with Gatland opting for an all-Scarlets three-quarter line against Argentina in the first test, hopefully we’ll see a few more examples of Wales playing what’s in front of them, rather than what Rob Howley has devised tactically.
Elsewhere, there were two areas for Wales to work on going forward that we just need to become a bit more streetwise in if we are going to regularly compete amongst the big nations in test matches.
Firstly, our ruck guard work lacked intelligence at times. With the likes of Ken Owens, Alun Wyn Jones, Sam Warburton and Taulupe Faletau all at home, the forwards looked a touch lost at times.
Leaving only one or two players guarding the ruck, against a side with a pack as physical as South Africa, is asking for trouble.
With Tomos Williams making his international debut at scrum-half, there is a learning point there for him in regards to taking control of his forwards and not switching off at the breakdown, but with the knowledge that it is an inexperienced nine, the forwards should be stepping up to assist him in that area.
Secondly, when South Africa kicked, which was a wise tactic given the relative inexperience of the Welsh back three and the weather, we didn’t do a lot to protect ourselves from Springbok chasers.
Too many times we allowed South Africans a free run at the kick receiver, putting pressure on the Welsh player already having to contend with some excellent kicks from Elton Jantjies and the poor weather in Washington.
Compare the above images with this one of the Springboks preparing to receive a kick…
They have three players covering the two lead Wales chasers, cutting off their running lines and affording the kick receiver time and space to catch the ball and get back onto the front foot.
Is it entirely legal? No. Do all the best teams do it? Yes. Gethin Jenkins has been perfecting this art for years, and if Wales want to be competitive, especially away from the Millennium Stadium, we have to get a bit streetwise in terms of gaining advantages wherever we can.
Of course, we can also help ourselves in terms of the team we select, which brings me on to some concerns about the team picked to face Argentina on Saturday.
We are now just over a year out from the 2019 Rugby World Cup, and this is the last summer tour before the tournament. Therefore, now is the first time we should be seriously looking ahead to Japan and achieving the best result we can at the showpiece event.
To do that we have to gather momentum, we have to start working towards finding out what our best team is, and we have to start gelling as a group of players.
Therefore for Warren Gatland to chop and change the team as he has, drop players who performed well against South Africa last week, and continue to pursue selecting members of the squad in positions they do not play in regularly seems to me to be of little help.
Wales should be going to Argentina to pit the best team we have against a country that is emerging as a power in world rugby, and who’s Super Rugby side have been very impressive this season.
Instead we will send yet another experimental side out, and this time it will be a big ask to come out with the win.