Wales eke out a hard-fought win against Fiji with Matthew Morgan shining, Gareth Davies growing into his role but the scrum remaining a concern
Slight scare, but Wales win
Wales won, but it wasn’t without a few twitchy moments. Admittedly it was a 15 Certificate type scare and not an 18 Certificate – but it certainly made Welsh supporters flinch on more than one occasion. Wales’ obvious desire for a bonus point and Fiji’s sevens’ inspired approach to the fifteen man game meant that the fixture was played at a remarkable tempo and with incredible width. The Millennium Stadium staff could have added ten feet to the width of the pitch and it still wouldn’t have been wide enough to accommodate the game.
To illustrate this point Wales carried the ball 589m and Fiji 566m – numbers that you would usually associate with Super Rugby, not Test rugby. Whilst Wales’s approach played into Fiji’s hands on occasions it did allow Jamie Roberts to show that he is more than a crash ball 12; delivering one of his finest passing performances. An open game also allowed Matthew Morgan, George North and Gareth Davies to make some glamourous line breaks – particularly Morgan whose legs on occasion move so fast that you expect Wile E. Coyote to run into shot and chase him through the streets of Cardiff.
But whilst the game had some wonderfully aesthetic moments for Wales, others were ugly. The scrum once again was worryingly fragile and Wales had a tackle completion of just 79% – as low as I can remember under Shaun Edwards. This very rare low tackle completion is probably due to the amount of ball that Fiji carried in the wide channels – narrow carries are a lot easier to defend. However, and most importantly, Wales got the job done and remain atop Pool A.
Matthew Morgan. A pleasure to watch
Matthew Morgan missed one tackle of note against Fiji and there will be those who will choose to focus on that instead of the mesmerising line breaks that he made. Buy why would you? His attacking performance was truly magical. Morgan has this glorious ability to make it look like he isn’t playing on a claustrophic test rugby pitch and is instead just running carefree on the wide open prairies of North Dakota. He carried the ball 132 metres in just seventy minutes.
Very few of which contained the cheap kick return yards that fullbacks regularly accumulate – these were line break metres. Line break metres in which he made experienced Fijian internationals look they had never tackled before. Morgan’s passing was also accurate, having made the line break he regularly delivered supporting players with sensibly weighted passes. Well played Matthew Morgan.
Scrummage is beyond a concern
The Fijian scrum is one of the most improved set pieces in test rugby. Proved by their ranking position of 10th in the World. You simply don’t become a top ten team without a competitive set piece. And so it proved against Wales. The Welsh scrum, as against England, got in all sorts of trouble. It wasn’t just on one side of the scrum either, both the tighthead and loosehead side struggled. The situation was made even more remarkable by the fact that Wales were 45kg heavier up front – nearly 6kg per man.
The fragility of the Welsh scrum was just one of the reasons that Wales were dragged into an open game. With unreliable set piece ball playing, a structured kicking game is difficult – and at times that is exactly what Wales needed. This is the second game in succession where Wales have managed to win with a crumbly scrum – unless it improves, at some point, it will cost them the game.
Gareth Davies building nicely
Gareth Davies had a low key build up to this competition. All eyes were on Rhys Webb and those that weren’t were focussing on Mike Phillips’ exclusion. However, Davies now has our full, undivided attention and his performances warrant it. Together with the immaculate Dan Biggar, he has been one of Wales’ key points contributors. Four tries in three games is a magnificent record and continues the try scoring prowess that has seen him dominate the top try scorer charts in the PRO 12 in recent seasons.
But his contribution extends beyond points. As we saw against Fiji, Davies has a fast, smooth pass that requires little ‘crabbing’ across the field. His box kick is accurate and defensively he is sound. However Davies’s greatest strength is his ability to snipe around the fringes of breakdowns and in the 6th minute against Fiji he did just that. Even with incredibly slow ball, he had the strength and agility to sneak past the Fijian open side Akapusi Qera – that’s no mean feat. Hat tip Mr Davies.
No serious injuries
Whoever has a full set of Welsh squad Voodoo Dolls must have temporarily lost them for 80 minutes on Thursday evening as no Welsh players appear to have sustained any serious injuries. There were the obvious bumps and bruises that you would expect in a game of this nature but none of the grim stretcher removals that have become commonplace for the Welsh squad in recent weeks. The on field benefits of having no serious injuries are obvious, however the off field benefits are equally important.
The Welsh coaches can now focus on Australia and not drafting in additional players. There will be no need to integrate new players into the squad, no lengthy press conferences explaining why certain players have been called and no awkward conversations with players who were excluded from the initial party before being drafted back into the squad. Having said that, knowing the Welsh squad’s luck during this competition, four of them probably will fall down the stairs at the Vale Resort this week and all end up on crutches.