Wales extended their winning streak in international rugby to four games last Saturday, as Argentina were dispatched in the first of two tests with a 23-10 scoreline in San Juan.
After the first game of the summer series, against South Africa in Washington DC, threw up an underwhelming performance despite securing a win, there was a marked improvement from Wales on Saturday as the attack looked clinical and the defence prevented Argentina from crossing the try line until the dying moments of the match.
Focusing on the offensive side of the game, after the one-dimensional showing against the Springboks last week, there was a much better game plan with ball in hand against Los Pumas, as we looked dangerous every time we got decent first phase ball, or settled into phase play outside the defensive 22.
Before getting into the images, taking a look at the statistics is an excellent way of describing just how effective Wales were when attacking on Saturday.
Despite having just 32% territory and 35% possession, Warren Gatland’s side managed to make 312 metres, just 56m less than Argentina, and off 85 fewer carries. What that means is Wales made an average of 3.4 metres every time we carries, as opposed to 2 metres per carry for Argentina.
How did we do it? We showed off our skill level, and got our best players with ball-in-hand as much as possible, letting them play.
Against South Africa last week, the level of our ball carrying amongst the forwards pretty much started and ended with one-out runners going up against a well organised Springbok defence and getting nowhere.
Without a latch player, we also struggled to recycle the ball quick enough to generate any sort of tempo or forward momentum in the attack.
Fast forward seven days, and the forwards have been sent out with a game plan for the tight carries that demonstrates the upskilling of the heavy men that has taken place in this country over the last two or three years.
Led by the Scarlets players, and those youngsters who have recently come through the Wales U20 setup under new Cardiff Blues backs/attack coach Jason Strange, there were switches, pop passes and inside passes to test the initial Argentinian defence.
The home side struggled to identify who the ball carrier would be, resulting in Wales being able to make metres, get quick front foot ball, and tie in defenders to the breakdown area, opening up spaces out wide.
Then it’s all about putting your best players in dangerous positions, and for Wales that means one man, Rhys Patchell.
As the man wearing the famous red Welsh number 10 jersey, Patchell has to spend phases at first receiver, orchestrating the attack outside him in conjunction with the scrum-half, his club team-mate Gareth Davies.
However, as discussed previously when looking at the case for a Patchell and Gareth Anscombe 10/15 axis, the Scarlet is not the type of fly-half who you’ll find at first receiver phase-after-phase in an attacking set. As a result, when he did find himself there, Wales kept it simple with crash ball runners coming off the flat outside-half.
There are downsides to this, as it means Patchell’s general game management skills, and his ability to deal with his forward pack struggling to make any headway, are not at the level you would expect of an all-round world class 10.
On the flip side, when a team gets the attacking tactics right to suit Patchell’s style of play, and secures regular front-foot ball at a good tempo, the fly-half is close to unplayable, and Wales did that excellently on Saturday.
What we used was the ‘screen pass’, whereby one player has the ball in hand with two team-mates outside them.
One of those players comes on a short crash ball line, and it is him who acts as the screen to attract the attention of the defenders and allow the ball carrier to make the pass to the second team-mate who is approximately two yards deeper and moving towards the space created out wide.
Rhys Patchell was the man who received the screen pass on a number of occasions on Saturday, giving one of our best players possession with time and space on the ball to make decisions.
Then, with Argentinian defenders tied up by the forwards clever carrying and the dummy runner as part of the screen pass, Wales put at least two options outside Patchell and allowed him to choose the best option to take advantage of the pace created. The fly-half did that to good effect throughout the game.
More often than not Patchell’s propensity to take the ball to the line despite receiving the ball in space possibly up to five metres behind the defensive line opened up more space outside him, and as a result he chose to move the ball towards the flank as quickly as possible.
This got his outside backs moving on to the ball at speed and secured some good metres made on each phase, before recycling and going again.
However, Patchell also showed off his mature decision making, putting boot to ball with excellent effect and turning Argentina, subsequently putting pressure on their set piece inside the home side’s 22.
All-in-all, it was a very well rounded performance from Rhys Patchell, who took his chance in the 10 shirt after a tough outing against England in the Six Nations, and will keep his position for the second test on Saturday.
He should be very thankful to his team-mates though, who ensured that he could play the game that comes to naturally to him; on the front foot, at a high tempo, one-out from the first receiver and dictating play as and how he wants.
It’s not particularly orthodox, but when it works, it is a joy to watch.