The fine form of George North and Jamie Roberts, a solid scrum and an unsatisfied Welsh public – we analyse Wales' performance against Scotland
The dilemma of winning v progressing
Despite beating Scotland by 27-23, Wales find themselves in a difficult and rather weird position. They are winning, but maybe not progressing as the Welsh rugby public would like. The Welsh team’s performance on Saturday was solid and there were some genuine highlights: a 100% completion on both scrum and lineout, a classic scrum-half’s run-in from Gareth Davies, a delicate angle from Jamie Roberts and a mesmerising line from George North that Julian Savea would have drooled over.
Wales’ very own Kraken, Luke Charteris, managed to wrap the ever dangerous Scottish rolling maul and Alun Wyn Jones managed to disrupt what is a very stable lineout. But for some reason, the Welsh public still remain largely unsated.
This desire for more expansive rugby has manifested with an obsession for Justin Tipuric to start at seven – a position where creativity comes way down the priority list. Creativity is a back’s issue, not one for the forwards. Even the world’s greatest opensides have had little impact on their team’s creativity – Richie McCaw being a prime example. It is a difficult conundrum: allow the players to progress the style in which they play and give them a chance of competing in this summer’s three-Test tour of New Zealand or focus entirely on winning this year’s Six Nations. There is no easy answer.
George North is back
For all Welsh supporters and neutral observers, it was fantastic to see George North being, well, George North. He has spent the past 12 months largely subdued on the rugby field. His dip in form has been perfectly understandable given the severity of his concussions and the impact that the symptoms have had on his life. It felt as though we’ve been watching a film in 2D when we know full well that it was shot in 3D.
Against Scotland, however, in the 70th minute we saw the full 3D, Dolby surround sound, 360-degree IMAX George North. The line that he ran for his try was glorious. With the Scottish defence drifting wide to cope with the usual 12 channel barrage, North cut back against it and exposed the weaker, left shoulders of the Scottish defenders. His angle left six defenders dumbfounded – you could have sent North’s shorts to the CSI Miami lab and not found a single Scottish fingerprint on them. Great to see you back, George.
Jamie Roberts was awesome again
Jamie Roberts was Man of the Match against Scotland and delivered one of the performances of his career. His defensive capabilities are a given, he simply doesn’t miss tackles and the majority of those hits are ‘+1’ aggressive tackles that halt or drive the attacking player backwards.
But the real majesty of Roberts’s performance on Scotland was his try. Roberts is known for running straight, but the 45-degree angle fooled everybody. Stopping Roberts when you can see him coming is a two-man job, but when he blasts across the defender’s blind spot major problems lie ahead. And so it proved. Well played, Jamie.
Risks can pay off
Whilst Wales beat Scotland, there were moments when the decision-making seemed overly conservative. There were two or three opportunities where the Welsh midfield found themselves with turnover ball, an overlap or a defensive mismatch but players opted to drive the ball into the corner rather than exploit the space with a pass or simple change of direction. This week the former Wales scrum-half Mike Phillips alluded to the fact that players were overly admonished for making mistakes, which would explain a lot.
The one glorious example of risk taking being positive was Tom James’s break. From turnover ball James could easily have chosen the conservative option by feeding his scrum-half, who could then have cleared the ball and set up an attacking kick-chase, but he didn’t. Instead James looked up, saw a clear field and ran 70 electrifying metres like he was being chased by a swarm of bees. Wales could do with a bit more ‘Tom James’ about them, at times.
Young Welsh props are developing
Wales’ young props are becoming a huge positive during this Six Nations. With Samson Lee and Rob Evans both aged just 23, they’re reasonably young for international front-row forwards. But their performances so far have been at the level that you’d expect from far more senior players.
Together with Scott Baldwin they helped deliver a 100% scrum completion and whilst it wasn’t perfect for the entire 80 minutes, at times it was genuinely imposing. On two occasions the Welsh scrum rolled forward at a rate that you rarely see at Test level – where the front-row forwards’ feet were churning so quickly that you could have lobbed a barrel full of grapes under their boots and two scrums later you’d have wine. Promising signs.
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