Wales returned to winning ways in scrappy fashion with an 18-0 win over Georgia at Parc y Scarlets in the second round of the Autumn Nations Cup.
After suffering a sixth successive defeat last week at the hands of Ireland, Wayne Pivac had taken the opportunity to freshen up his side with only Liam Williams and Justin Tipuric surviving in the starting XV, with James Botham and Kieran Hardy making their debuts while Callum Sheedy and Louis Rees-Zammit started for the first time.
In poor Llanelli conditions once again, Wales were able to assert early dominance at the scrum the Georgians are renowned for, with Wyn Jones winning two early penalties, one of which Callum Sheedy slotted for a 3-0 lead.
The hosts were moving the ball well and getting over the gain line regularly despite the weather, but a lack of cutting edge in the backs left the men in red reliant on ill-discipline from Georgia in order to push into their 22.
A penalty advantage was almost turned into a try when Sheedy’s cross kick was patted down to Louis Rees-Zammit but the winger was held just short of the line. Instead he had to wait five minutes for Nick Tompkins to offload out of a tackle for Sheedy to throw a perfect miss-pass and Rees-Zammit to get over for his first international score.
Georgia started to come back into the game more as the half wore on, with Wales being penalised one too many times at the breakdown, but when Kieran Hardy was the latest culprit, Tedo Abzhandadze could not make him pay off the tee and the hosts went in 8-0 up at the break.
The opening 10 minutes of the second half were dominated by the hosts as the pressure mounted on the Lelos in their own 22. A high tackle on James Botham draw a penalty which slid wide, but Sheedy was able to make up for that when the visitors went off their feet, extending the lead by three points.
Any momentum was slightly rocked by injuries as first Johnny McNicholl departed with a rib injury, and then Justin Tipuric was carted off after being knocked unconscious by the swinging arm of Beka Saginadze, for which the Georgian was sent to the sin bin.
Unfortunately Wales couldn’t make the man advantage count, being disrupted by replacements and a blunt attack that got into good shapes but failed to make any line breaks with a lack of speed and individual ability to beat a man.
In the end the men in red waited until the 75 minute mark to make the game safe when a Johnny Williams carry got us over the gain line before some good hands from Rhys Webb and Callum Sheedy sent Louis Rees-Zammit clear down the left, with Webb re-appearing on the inside shoulder for support.
An 18-0 scoreline in the end was comfortable for Wales, but by no means convincing with the side still looking short of confidence in themselves and the game plan that Wayne Pivac and his coaches are trying to implement.
With England heading to West Wales next week there’s no sign of the winning run being here to stay, but hopefully this is the turning point for team selection towards trusting players who are capable of playing expansively, rather then reverting to type for the final pool stage game of the Autumn Nations Cup.