View from next door: New Zealand

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A spin-off series from the View from the South Terrace series on Cardiff games, the View from next door will offer a supposedly neutral but probably Blue and Black tinted view on Wales games.

It starts from a point where the national team have produced a record breaking performance, only unfortunately they are not the records you want to breaking, as Wayne Pivac’s men conceded the most points in a home test against New Zealand in our history and equalled the most points conceded against New Zealand in any test.

There was a narrative in some quarters that Wales had perhaps turned a corner during the summer tour of South Africa, but it was always difficult to buy that for the simple reason that the Springboks are a team against whom it’s relatively simple to look competitive against.

The world champions are a fairly up-and-down team in attack, so as long as you’re organised and prepared for that physical challenge, and keep it fairly tight and risk-free in attack, then you can appear to be in the battle without actually being likely to win a test. That’s essentially what we did in July, while nabbing a win against a much changed opposition in the second test.

So when the All Blacks arrived, albeit with some slightly varied form across the summer tests and The Rugby Championship, it was always going to be a greater challenge for this Wales team because they will ask questions that are harder to answer, and that’s just what transpired.

Defensively there was just no answer for New Zealand’s high-tempo attacking game. They carried with a dynamism and intensity that the men in red simply could not deal with, not due to lack of desire but simply because of a size disadvantage that we could not handle. On a wet and slippery surface despite the roof being shut, the away side kept it tight and were incisive in everything they did.

There are questions to be asked selection-wise in this area as Wales struggled firstly with players who did not look match sharp, rather than match fit necessarily, but mainly though with a lack of physical presence on the blindside flank. Dominant tackles were few and far between, not allowing any opportunity to arrest the All Blacks momentum, let alone any chance to win a turnover.

That selection seemed to be more focused towards the Welsh attack, with Tipuric selected on the blindside as an athletic option, while Gareth Thomas and Ken Owens were selected for their ball carrying up front, and George North continued as a strike runner from outside centre. However, it was all moot as the attacking system once again disintegrated in front of our eyes.

Pivac and Stephen Jones’ attacking ideology of forwards playing with supreme width, quick and lightly staffed breakdowns, and giving the backs free reign to pop up as and where they see fit, continues to translate poorly on the international stage where physical and organised defences are not fussed by that width and are disciplined enough to target breakdowns where they can slow Wales down and win turnovers easily.

Once the initial impetus of a starter play and it’s subsequent two phases are lost, the attack begins to look lost and, quite simply, clueless, bringing no speed on carries off 9 and relying on individual brilliance to break the opposition down rather than manufacturing any line break opportunities itself.

Add in a scrum that was on skates and a lineout that gradually imploded as the game wore on, and Wales were miles off once the final whistle was blown.

On a hunt for positives there were a few individuals that stood out as Ken Owens, Taulupe Faletau and Nick Tompkins played well despite the performance of the team as a whole, while Rio Dyer worked hard on debut and scored a superb try from a first phase strike play that he will remember forever.

Ultimately though it was another slow start for Wales in an Autumn campaign, something that is becoming a bit of a theme as the years go on and will need to be addressed soon by the coaching staff. I do think things will get better as the series continues, and it actually wouldn’t surprise me if we bounced back to grind a win out against Argentina next week, but in the end it feels like another case of two steps back, and one step forward.

That Rugby World Cup is coming around very quickly and there’s no obvious signs that Wales will be troubling the latter stages at this point.

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