By Paul Williams
Losing to Argentina is not a ‘shock’ result
WALES’ 12-26 defeat to Argentina seems to have come as a shock to many. To those who analysed the Pumas performances in the inaugural Rugby Championship, it hasn’t. Argentina may have finished bottom of the table, but their first season in the toughest competition outside of the World Cup was a great success. They drew 16-16 with South Africa and lost twice to Australia by a combined margin of just 10 points. Many people in Wales viewed this fixture as one of the easier games in the Autumn Series, deemed more comparable to playing Samoa than the Wallabies or the All Blacks. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth. The Pumas are not the ‘Italy’ of the South. Therefore Saturday’s defeat should not have come as a shock – although the damp manner in which they went down should.
Wales didn’t make a single clean break against Argentina. Not one. Nada. Zilch. Argentina, a side hardly renowned for their ability to break through the middle or the outside channels, created five clean breaks – and two tries followed. Wales’ running patterns were painfully predictable. You don’t need to have Gwyn Jones’ analytical skills to realise that the Welsh game plan involved sending North, Cuthbert and Roberts on straight angles with the intention of ploughing over the top of defenders. It was as ineffective as it was naive. At times it was like watching the 80’s computer game ‘Breakout’ where a red ball repeatedly flew straight into a blue wall. Wales’ running angles yesterday were as boring to watch as that computer game was to play. Wales need to develop a new gameplan, and sharpish.
Wales have forgotten how to offload
Offloading used to be one of the Welsh team’s key attributes, the Welsh Way, as it was widely chronicled. In the days when Wales weren’t able to create a solid platform, it was their key to unlocking the defensive line – it’s how they won the 2005 Grand Slam. But now that Wales do have a solid platform, frustratingly, they have lost the desire to offload. On Saturday, Wales had 48% of the possession and the territory, the lineout ran at 90% and the scrum was far more stable than people had predicted – Aaron Jarvis’ debut on the tight head was nothing but solid. But despite having a competitive platform, Wales only made seven offloads compared to Argentina’s 13 – and let’s not kid ourselves, the Pumas are hardly the Harlem Globe Trotters. Wales’ reluctance to offload was made all the more frustrating by the way in which the Argentinians defended. North and Cuthbert were repeatedly ankle tackled by the Pumas which should have kept their hands and arms free to offload, yet Wales still had limited success in finding their men out of the tackle. It is worth mentioning that the Puma’s defensive strategy was very impressive. They had clearly done their homework on Wales’ strike runners – scratch that, it was more like a PHD than homework. Props to Santiago Phelan.
Faletau carried Wales
Toby Faletau was a rare positive for Wales. He carried Wales – almost literally, carrying the ball an incredible 122m. To put it into context, Faletau carried the ball three times further than the rest of the Welsh starting pack and the substitutes combined. Falatau’s carrying technique was very neat, his ability to switch the ball from a left hand carry to the right constantly freed up the correct hand with which to fend off the tackler – it resulted in 18 carries and an impressive zero turnovers. Faletau’s quality carrying was in stark contrast to the limited carrying from the rest of the starting eight, who only managed to carry the ball 12 yards between them – the Welsh forward substitutes of McCusker, James, Hibbard and Bevington managed to carry the ball a combined 28 metres in a fraction of the time. The Welsh pack needs to start carrying the ball; otherwise a few of them will end up carrying the can.
Two weeks preparation v three months
There was an interesting subtext to the game between Wales and Argentina. It wasn’t just about the 80 minutes on the field, but the minutes, days and weeks before hand – or in the Argentinians’ case, months. The Pumas squad had been together for the best part of three months as part of the Rugby Championship – they only went their separate ways four weeks ago. The Pumas have played six full tests together since August and it showed in their performance against Wales. Much is made of Wales spending eight days together in their training camps, but in reality that is an insignificant period of time compared to the preparation that the Southern Hemisphere teams are afforded due to the structure of the Southern Hemisphere season. Wales haven’t won an opening fixture in the Autumn Internationals for ten years. It’s not an excuse, but it’s equally, it’s not a coincidence.