Wales will need to step up a gear or two for Ireland test

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Wales’ Six Nations campaign got off to an emphatic start on Saturday with the 42-0 demolition of Italy at the Principality Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

In terms of getting a result in your first game as head coach in the Six Nations Wayne Pivac could not have asked for anymore, with his team running in five tries and keeping a clean sheet, topping the table after round one of the tournament.

However, without wishing to sound negative but maintaining a sense of realism, the Six Nations actually gets underway for Wales this weekend and they will need to improve quickly.

With the greatest of respect to an Italy side without the talismanic Sergio Parisse and under Franco Smith as head coach who they know is only in place on an interim basis, they were a poor quality international team, arguably worse than they have been for the last few years.

They created little in the way of try scoring opportunity, with just three line breaks despite edging possession, and largely played in their own half rarely putting pressure on a Wales defence that got through a fairly large workload in making 191 tackles.

The fact that Italy managed to maintain the slight majority of possession may well be a concern for Wales though, who would have wanted to be dominating proceedings on their own patch, and it lead to that 20 minutes after half-time where the hosts seemed to struggle to get going after the break.

George North Italy

Switching off for a quarter of the game like that will be something that has to be avoided this weekend, as Ireland will be a much sterner test than the Italians were, especially with their ability to build pressure and fashion scoring chances if they are allowed to dominate possession.

There is also concern over the scrum where Wales were noticeably second best to Italy on Saturday, giving up three scrum penalties and a free-kick as well as being under pressure on our own ball. It’s another way for Ireland to build pressure of their own and deprive us the platform to strike off first phase.

What will be interesting is how Wayne Pivac approaches the game, considering his ‘evolution’ of tactics towards a more expansive attacking game plan, with away games against Ireland usually a much tighter, more physical affair.

Balancing the desire to move the ball with the need to run a controlled kicking game and meet the Irish up front in the physical battle will be key as spending too much time moving through the forwards could see us dragged into a fight we don’t want to be in, while overplaying out wide risks a high number of turnovers, especially with the team still early in this evolution.

Getting the team selection right will also be key, possibly strengthening the scrum but without taking away the work done around the field by the props, as well as balancing the need for defensive stability with attacking firepower in the outside backs.

There’s no reason why Wales can’t go to Ireland and get the win this weekend though, and you’d expect that performance level to rise to meet the challenge posed by going to Dublin. If it doesn’t then it could be a long afternoon!

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