The wonder of winning ugly, Mr Consistent Taulupe Faletau and areas for Wales to address
Winning ugly is a good thing
Winning when you’re playing well is easy. Running in two or three tries when you’ve made 20 line breaks, beaten 20 defenders and executed 20 effective offloads is a cinch. Winning when you don’t play very well is far more difficult – and that is exactly what Wales accomplished against France when they secured a victory by 19-10. Welsh rugby finds itself in a luxurious position in this Six Nations, the national team comfortably able beat a Tier One nation whilst playing ugly.
Wales had just 23% of the possession and 24% of the territory in the second half. They also had a tackle completion of just 86% – some way below the level that Shaun Edwards usually expects. Dan Lydiate’s pass behind Taulupe Faletau’s shoulder blew a rare four-man overlap and George North scored a try with the sort of ball control that you would usually associate with hungover 40-year-olds playing Sunday league football.
This isn’t to say that Wales didn’t excel at any aspects of the game; they did. They turned their own ball over just eight times in 80 minutes, had another hugely positive completion rate at the lineout (100%) and kicked 83% of their shots at goal. Liam Williams excelled in the air and Gareth Davies delivered another fine display from scrum-half, with the second highest total metres carried (59) and defenders beaten (six) for both teams. But despite a largely aesthetically displeasing performance, Wales didn’t look like losing to France for even a second. Never underestimate the beauty of winning ugly.
Faletau is almost too good for his own good
Taulupe Faletau is one of those players who performs at such a consistently high level that he rarely makes the headlines. He seldom wins Man of Match awards and, like Alun Wyn Jones, his performances are seen as a given. The rugby media as a whole tends to focus on substantial swings and changes in output and effectiveness. Playing freakishly well or freakishly badly fuels the tweets and headlines – not consistent effectiveness.
However, Faletau doesn’t fall into either of those categories. He is very good in every game. He has only missed two tackles in 240 minutes of rugby in this year’s championship. Against France he’d made 15 tackles after just 55 minutes. Perhaps Faletau needs to deliberately have a stinker, so that the week after Welsh rugby appreciates how lucky they are to have him.
Liam Williams was near perfect
Considering how little rugby Liam Williams has played this season, his performance against France was remarkable. Whilst his defence was, as ever, watertight (four tackles made, none missed) it was his work in the air that was so impressive. Williams’s ability to sprint, jump with a leading leg and defuse a ‘bomb’, without taking his eye off the ball, is incredible – there are species of owls that are less effective in the air than Williams. The one aspect of his game that we haven’t really witnessed since his return is his ability to hit the line in the 13 channel, but that is hardly his fault when Jonathan Davies is currently kicking as much ball away as he runs. Against France, Davies used his left peg seven times, ran the ball seven times and passed just once – that’s a big kicking number when you consider that the starting outside-centres for the other Six Nations teams booted the ball twice between them. There’s plenty more to come from Williams.
A simple tweak to the scrums could revolutionise rugby
Scrum resets are the dry rot of rugby, particularly at a time when the northern hemisphere has an image problem with regards creativity in open play. These resets are eating into the foundations of what makes the game great.
People are paying £80 to watch 1,800kg of meat lining up to exacting standards that you would usually associate with structural engineering, but simply stopping the clock during resets could have a radical impact on rugby. Not only would it increase the amount of time that the ball is in play, but it could also increase the amount of tries that are scored in Tests. The more the ball is in play, the more tired players become.
It is no coincidence that the last quarter of modern Test matches are more entertaining than the first quarter. Tired players miss tackles, hit less rucks and are slower to chase kicks – all of which leads to space, and space leads to tries. Stop the clock for scrum resets and watch the tries start to stack up.
Lydiate needs to change his technique
Dan Lydiate has a problem on his hands. To be more specific he has a problem on his arms – he isn’t using them in the tackle and it is becoming a genuine issue. For most players the new refereeing focus on players using their arms on low tackles wouldn’t be such a problem. But it is exacerbated in the case of Lydiate in that the low tackle is the foundation on which he has built his career.
Lydiate, much like Dennis Rodman’s ‘rebounding’ in the NBA, has focused on one aspect of a multi-skilled sporting discipline and excelled at it. If possible Lydiate has made the situation even worse after his tackle in the 33rd minute against France where even the Venus de Milo would have made more of an effort to use a bit of arm. It’s a serious issue for Lydiate and needs addressing. A change in focus from referees can have a huge impact on a player’s career. When rugby changed its scrummaging protocols, it had a negative effect on the careers of hugely successful props – Adam Jones being one. Lydiate needs to be careful.
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