Analysis: Making the attack Biggar

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After the disappointment at Twickenham in the first pre-World Cup encounter, Wales bounced back well with a 13-6 win over England last Saturday.

It was a clear step in the right direction from Warren Gatland’s men, who addressed some of the noticeable physicality and intensity issues in the defence and stepped up to stop the away side scoring a try, in a similar performance to those which won us the Grand Slam earlier this year.

That is exactly what the coaches will want from these pre-World Cup games, to build towards Japan, and is the reason nobody was panicking after the loss to England, knowing that the time to assess the squad will be after the final game away to Ireland.

Up to that point we need to keep improving, and next on the list of areas to focus on may now be the attack, which considering we are currently the top ranked side in the World, in isolation is definitely outside the top five attacks in world rugby, and possibly outside the top 10.

I’ve looked previously at why adding to our attack is key when it comes to winning a World Cup, and it was clear that some changes had been made in the first game against England, with a desire to play a touch wider and the addition of some neat offloads to the attacking game.

However, then Gareth Anscombe went down with the knee injury that will rule him out of going to Japan, and suddenly everything is up in the air, with Dan Biggar now likely to be the man wearing the number 10 jersey over the next few months.

Now Biggar in himself returning to start regularly at fly-half for Wales is not a bad thing, no matter how much of a shame losing Anscombe is. The Northampton man has the experience, is a natural leader, possesses a superb kicking and aerial game, and is one of the most competitive people to have graced the red jersey.

However, he is a very different player to Anscombe. Whereas the man now at the Ospreys is more than comfortable standing flat to the line and seems to live to manipulate outside defenders, Biggar, as shown above, has a natural starting position somewhat deeper.

That allows the outside defender in a much stronger position with more time to make decisions and a better field of vision when it comes to blitzing. As a result he can step up to Ross Moriarty in the clip above and bring him down behind the gain line, rather than getting caught on his heels.

With this play call largely out of the equation, Wales have two options when it comes to defining their attacking identity over the next few weeks; restrict the attack to one-out runners off nine or ten and utilise the kicking game even more heavily, or get outside that defender and widen the pitch, playing in the outside channels.

Wales opted for the second option on Saturday, particularly in the first half when playing either in midfield or just in English territory, with varying degrees of success.

One reason why it failed was the choice of when to go wide, with one attacking set in the first 10 minutes of the game seeing us go touchline-to-touchline but ending up losing possession in the clip above having not made a single metre.

Going wide for the sake of it, especially with a long miss-pass such as this one, adds little in an attacking sense, with the defence usually happier to see it so they can drift and use the touchline as an extra defender, or isolate a ball carrier and look for a turnover.

Then when it is on to go wide, the question has to be ‘how do we get there?’.

In this circumstance it is the miss-pass again that sees the attack falter, although this time it’s the choice of pass, rather than the decision to throw a pass at all.

The longer time the ball is in the air towards Aaron Wainwright allows Jonathan Joseph to step up and make a tackle before he can shift possession wider, whereas if the pass goes to Jon Davies it would more than likely force Joseph to stay in the defensive line.

Davies can then draw the defender opposite him before Wainwright does the same with Joseph and the attack can develop out wide with some space to play into.

Then, at the risk of this piece becoming some sort of rant against the miss-pass, when it comes to actually taking advantage of the space, just shovelling the ball to the outside man as quickly as possible is not the way to go.

If this ball goes to James Davies, he can draw the tackle from the covering English defender before moving possession on to Alun Wyn Jones who could subsequently run clear down the wing.

The simple premise is that space does not automatically equal a line break, but a ball carrier coming up against no defenders will always be able to make metres, and that is why putting the ball through the hands and committing defenders is much better than throwing a long, early miss-pass.

This isn’t to say that the Wales players don’t have the basic skills to do this though, they are international quality athletes at the end of the day.

These flashes were enough to give me confidence that Wales can still attack with sufficient quality to trouble opposition defences and get enough points on the board to push on to the latter stages of the World Cup.

As much as seeing a player like Anscombe go down with a serious injury is devastating, if there is ever a ‘good’ time for it to happen early in the first game is it, as there is still plenty of time to get the attacking game tweaked for the new fly-half.

Now the task for Rob Howley is to get the team drilled on how to get the ball wide, with the attacking shape looking good as we create our own depth in the attacking line from Biggar standing deeper at first receiver.

Making the right decisions in and around the 13 channel will be key, and as Jon Davies gains match sharpness, Liam Williams returns to hit the line from full-back, and George North and Josh Adams begin to find their form, you’d have to imagine that attacking intent will come.

 

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