By Paul Williams
“Positives from the game”
Wales will undoubtedly “take some positives from the game” against the All Blacks. But therein lies the problem. Wales have once again become one of those teams that takes positives from defeats against the world’s best. This time last year that wasn’t the case. Wales were a team who took nothing from defeat except the regret that another southern hemisphere scalp had gone begging.
Having said that, there were some positives to take. The Welsh scrum was stable and Scott Andrews’s performance was pleasingly assured. Jon Davies’s return to the squad added much-needed angle changes to the Welsh back-line and his ability to kick to the corners from the wider channels was a valuable tool. The Welsh lineout ran at 94.1% and during the last 15 minutes Wales amassed some impressive multi-phase sets, which resulted in the creation and the execution of a hard-earned overlap.
Liam Williams’s spot tackling was impressive and it was good to see Sam Warburton being afforded the opportunity to carry the ball instead of being perpetually deployed on the ground – Warburton was the Welsh pack’s second-highest ball-carrier behind Toby Faletau. There were certainly positive elements within the Welsh performance, but to draw on them in the wake of a 33-10 defeat is unavoidably negative.
No place for cheap shots
Andrew Hore’s forearm hit on Wales second-row Bradley Davies was shameful and not befitting of the finest rugby nation in the world. There are some people in New Zealand who think that having a sponsor’s name on the All Blacks jersey devalues the shirt. It doesn’t – punching a fellow professional on the side of the head, from behind, certainly does.
It was the sort of cheap shot you would expect to see in Cardiff city centre at 5.20am, not pm. Last week, All Black fans rallied around Adam Thomson after the IRB decided to increase his ban from one to two weeks. I don’t think Hore can count on the same support. At least I hope not.
Tacklers missing in action
Wales had a tackle completion of 80% against the All Blacks – their lowest percentage since 4 February 2011. It may be even longer than that. Wales haven’t tackled that badly for such a long time that I couldn’t actually find tackle completion data for Wales before that date.
The Welsh back-line was particularly and uncharacteristically porous against the All Blacks, with the starting backs missing ten tackles between them – against Samoa, the whole squad of 23 only missed 12 in total. Much has been made of Gatland’s absence from the Welsh camp in recent weeks, yet on this defensive performance you could have been forgiven for thinking that it was Shaun Edwards who has been on a Lions sabbatical.
Paying the penalty
Wales’ decision to turn down kicks at goal in the first half and instead opt for touch was unusual. At best it panged of over-exuberance, at worst it smacked of desperation. The decision not to kick for goal in the third minute was particularly baffling – the game was in its infancy and there were zero points on the board.
Unfortunately the mistakes didn’t end there for Wales. These rushes of blood to the head clearly left Rhys Priestland’s right foot a little under-nourished and the second decision to turn down a kickable penalty resulted in the line kick missing touch completely. Test rugby doesn’t afford you many opportunities to get into the red zone, when you’re there you must score.
Bring back inventive plays
Rugby used to be littered with peculiar idiosyncratic moves. The ‘flying wedge’ and intricate tap-and-run penalty moves used to be a key part of the game. Sadly, they are no more. Standardised training ground drills, repetitive game plays and of course safety issues can leave rugby a bit on the bland side.
That’s why Wales’ 13-man lineout, which led to their first points of the game as Scott Williams touched down, was such a thing of beauty. It looked like the sort of move you would expect to find in a book about Roman military history, not a coaching manual. Rugby needs more 13-man lineouts. It was sensational.
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