By Paul Williams
12 months is a long time
Wales beat Argentina by 40 – 6 in an enormously comfortable victory – a pleasant contrast to last year’s fixture which the Pumas won by 26 – 12. The result was even more impressive when you consider that Wales had new combinations in the front row and centres, plus backrow and back-three combinations with limited game time.
Surprisingly, Wales’ possession and territory stats were meagre when compared to the Springbok encounter – Wales secured 44% possession and 46% territory. However the use of that possession was, at times, a delight to watch. Mike Phillips regularly ran a direct ‘arc’ across the tackle line, sucking in defenders and leaving gaps into which Wales consistently sent their principal ball carriers. Toby Faletau, Scott Williams and George North were the main beneficiaries of Phillips’ running lines and in fact North added at least another minute to his show reel.
Dan Biggar’s passing and tactical kicking was as calm and assured as Cory Allen’s debut. But the positives weren’t limited to the backline. The lineout ran at 92.9% and the scrum was stable, even with two debutant tight-heads. Playing both Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric increased Wales’ ruck speed and the ruck defence was tight even when down to 14 men. There will be those who believe that the Pumas have regressed over the past 12 months and they may be right. However, this is also the same Pumas team that remained largely competitive in this year’s Rugby Championship. Gatland will be pleased.
The Montana Mountain goats of North America, when fighting, crash heads with such force that it causes their hooves to fall off – even they’d think twice before running into Richard Hibbard.
His performance against Argentina was outstanding and more than justified his inclusion in the IRPA’s shortlist for team of the year. Not once did Hibbard go backwards in the tackle, even when triple tackled. But whilst his carrying was abrasive it was his tackling that caught the eye. It literally caught the eye of the Argentinian outside half, who having spotted Hibbard in his channel fumbled a pass which led directly to Mike Phillip’s try. It’s a shame that modern hookers are replaced after 55-60 minutes as it limits their ability to win man of the match awards. If Hibbard had made it past 70 minutes he would have run Toby Faletau very close for the bottle of bubbly.
Scott Williams opens the backline
Scott Williams had a very effective game against the Pumas. He was the games’ joint highest for clean-breaks (two) and beat more defenders than any player on the field (five). His defence was rock solid as ever. But whilst his individual performance was noteworthy, it was his team contribution that made such a difference. Williams’ ability to throw an accurate 15 yard pass off both hands added a new dimension to Wales’ backline and Williams executed 12 passes compared to his opposite number who threw just two.
Together with Dan Biggar, who also distributed accurately, Williams regularly fed the ball into the wider channels. The accuracy and speed of passing meant that Cory Allen, George North, Leigh Halfpenny and Liam Williams all managed to carry the ball more than 57m each. Warren Gatland has been looking for ‘Plan B’ for a while – he may need to rename it ‘Plan SW’.
Missed tackles or too keen on the kick charge?
Wales missed 12 tackles in the first half against Argentina – they only missed eight in 80 minutes against the Boks.
However, it was clear that most of the misses were as a result of being overly keen to charge down clearance kicks. Rushing up too quickly made Wales susceptible to a side step, as they found to their cost on numerous occasions in the first half. As a rule Argentina kick a lot of ball from the ten channel and it was obvious that Wales were trying to pressurise their clearances. In fact, most of the missed tackles came from front row forwards who occupy the first and second guard positions in Wales’ ruck defence and who regularly find themselves having to pressurise clearance kicks. Nevertheless, the overly aggressive kick charge was rectified at half-time and Wales only missed three tackles in the second half.
Leigh Halfpenny can kick in any conditions
Leigh Halfpenny is a tremendous goal kicker; arguably the best that Wales has had. However, Saturday’s display was exemplary when you consider the condition of the surface at the Millennium Stadium. It was like playing on humus covered in watercress. Yet Halfpenny still only missed one goal kick. He was eight from nine at 89%. That is a remarkable return when you consider how unstable his footing would have been.
The WRU should seriously consider laying a 4G surface in the Millennium Stadium. Either that or boot manufacturers are going to have to manufacture ‘rugby crampons’ specifically designed for the Welsh squad.