Analysis: WhAt GaMe PlAn?!

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After Wales’ 18-0 win over Georgia on Saturday evening at Parc y Scarlets there was a lot of talk on social media about what the game plan is under Wayne Pivac.

There was a general feel that a side such as ours should have been beating The Lelos by a more comfortable margin and thanks to a better attacking performance, which is understandable considering the comparative quality in the team and the status of the two countries in a rugby sense.

What I couldn’t get on board with though was the idea that the reason we were not able to score more than 18 points in a game we largely dominated was due to a lack of game plan entirely. The game plan was there, and more clearly than it has been so far this autumn, but the execution as too far off.

Earlier in this international window I had a look at the shape that Pivac and Stephen Jones were trying to implement on Wales’ attacking game, and how a 3-2-2-1 forwards structure wasn’t so conducive to keeping hold of the ball in tight and physical games, but could work with the right personnel.

The team selected against Georgia contained more of those right personnel than we have seen so far this Autumn, and in some attacking sequences we saw more of the rugby that the men in red could play over the next few years.

Across four phases we see from Wales the basic pattern of play that Pivac and Jones are trying to introduce, using the three-man carrying pod to create the platform and then the two-men pods to hold the defence, either going through another carrying phase or creating space out wide.

The first time we move wide, towards the right wing, the backs receive the ball via a pull-back from the two man pod. They are not set up ideally, with Nick Tompkins and Liam Williams in a similar position and Johnny Williams on the wing, but to get in to that shape in the first place is an encouraging sign.

Then switching back to the left wing and Seb Davies is the solo forward in the structure, able to carry harder against the outside backs of the Georgians, and as we saw against France in the first game of the autumn, with the skill set to get an offload away to free Louis Rees-Zammit if possible.

Unfortunately we did not see much of that on Saturday, whether that was down to the conditions it’s hard to say, but on a number of occasions the opportunity to move the ball into space was not taken.

As Callum Sheedy takes the ball between the carrying pods, the option is there to move the ball out the back again, with Nick Tompkins, Liam Williams and an out-of-sight Johnny Williams, ready to take advantage of the Georgian defender biting in on the carrying pod.

If it is indeed the conditions in Llanelli that prevented the ball being moved wide then managing the game is something that is tough to disagree with. However, the organisation of the backs here is once again lacking, with Tompkins and Liam operating in a similar space and Johnny out on the wing.

With their shoulders facing towards the touchline and none coming on to the ball at any pace, while the space is there to be exploited it doesn’t feel like we are particularly set to do that. This was not a one-off occurrence either.

On this occasion the shoulders are facing the touchline again, but there is the added issue that the gap between Johnny Williams and Tompkins is too big. It would be too simple for the Georgian defence to simply drift and utilise the touchline as an extra defender.

It is still encouraging that the shape is allowing Wales the option to play into space, the likelihood then is that the team needs time to gel. After all only Liam Williams and Johnny McNicholl have played together in those outside backs, and the midfield had just 10 caps between them.

When they do start to click, getting into position faster and coming on to the ball at pace, then the attacking benefits of the Pivac and Jones style will be properly obvious. That comes with game time and confidence though, which will hopefully also manifest itself in the use of first phase strike plays to score tries, rather than simply get over the gain line.

Too often we used the centres of a back rower as a battering ram, which would be fine as part of a two-phase pre-planned move, but as we can see from the second and third clips, the second phase just brought forwards short off nine to carry again.

Finishing on a positive though and there were big steps taken on Saturday towards a more fluid handling game, especially on transition from defence to attack, or unstructured attack to structured attack, overloading blind sides and trying to work the ball around Georgia.

Again it’s not perfect, but it’s encouraging to see Wales starting to attack in a more coherent manner, after the blunt and at times aimless attacking of the first three weeks of the autumn campaign.

The way that attack continues to improve is by the continuation of the team selection that we saw against Georgia, putting faith in younger and more inexperienced players with the skillsets and talent ceilings to play the Pivac and Jones way, rather than reverting to the Gatland-era players who struggled against France, Scotland and Ireland.

If the coaches select on reputation over form then they begin to sign their own contract terminations. They would only have themselves to blame if losses against tier one nations continue to rack up.

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