Wales get their passing game going, play with smiles on their faces, Jamie Roberts is Mr Consistent and George North is back with a bang
Markedly different approach
Wales beat Italy by 67-14 in what was as dramatic a seven-day change in tactics as you’ll witness in modern test rugby. Gone were the predictable straight lines and seeking of contact, and in came an expansive passing game. What was even more pleasing to see were players passing before contact – a rare treat in Northern Hemisphere rugby. To put it in perspective, Wales passed the ball 238 times against Italy, but just 89 times against England, 100 against France, 89 times against Scotland and 178 times against Ireland.
Wales varied their use of Jamie Roberts with a series of ‘miss-ones’ that the Italian defensive line struggled to read – George North sauntering through Kelly Haimona’s channel being a prime example. With Rhys Webb’s sniping runs holding the Italian forwards narrow, and Wales’ new found width in midfield, the Welsh backs ran riot. Combine the Welsh backs’ dominance with a 100% lineout completion, particularly clean ball from the middle jumpers and a problem free scrum and Wales scored nine tries and ran over 700 metres – that’s Super Rugby numbers.
Jamie Roberts 40th consecutive Championship appearance
Jamie Roberts had another good performance against Italy and revelled in the freedom he was afforded – carrying the ball nearly double his average for the tournament. This isn’t to say that he didn’t ‘truck’ the ball up when needed, he did, just ask Guglielmo Palazzani whose collision with Roberts looked like something from a Japanese Sci-Fi epic. But Roberts’ most impressive figure from the weekend is that it was his 40th consecutive Championship game.
Yup, 40th! That’s an insane number when you consider how competitive test rugby is. But what makes that figure even more remarkable is that Jamie Roberts remains injury free for such long periods of time. He plays the game at the very limit of the physicality spectrum. His reputation is such that he is regularly double- hit by backrow forwards and yet rarely leaves the field before the final whistle. In fact, as a doctor, he’s probably breaking the Hippocratic Oath, on himself, by not recommending that he shouldn’t play rugby in the manner that he does. Hat Tip Mr Roberts.
Vintage George North.
If a 23-year-old wine can be labelled vintage, then so can a rugby player. George North’s performance against Italy was further evidence that his confidence has fully returned having suffered a series of serious concussions last season. North was back to his high knee lifting, lateral moving, Jurassic Park best, where some of his line breaks make him look like a different species as he runs past the camera.
He carried 148 genuine yards, with very few cheap kick return yards, made five clean breaks and beat five defenders. North was hugely competent under the highball, and in his offloading game. But the real measure of his returned confidence was the line that he ran for his 48th minute try. Six months ago, having made a clean line break through the 12 channel North would probably have taken the outside arc towards the support of Jon Davies. On Saturday, he dug his left leg in, ran outside-to-in and stormed under the posts unopposed.
Ross Moriarty – a viable option
Ross Moriarty had an impressive game against Italy, having replaced Justin Tipuric after 16 minutes. He is a very different player to any of Wales’ backrow options. A former full-back, Moriarty is a swift and genuinely powerful carrier. In fact he was Wales’ top carrier in the forwards with 46 yards and let’s not forget he also scored two tries.
But what separates Moriarty is his genuine desire for a big carry. He isn’t interested in a three yard rumble and recycle, he hits every angle and contact as if it will be a YouTube carry. Moriarty could be hugely beneficial when Wales arrive in New Zealand, especially on the dry pitch under the Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
It’s good to see the Welsh players smile.
It’s very easy for modern rugby to lose its ‘smile’. Such is the pressure on coaches and players to perform that fun is an afterthought in professional rugby. That’s why it was so good to see the Welsh squad actually smiling as they played and particularly as they scored. The freedom with which Wales played allowed three or four senior Welsh players to open the cage door and step out into the wild. Particularly Jon Davies who threw 14 passes against Italy, yet just three against Scotland.
It was good to see a Welsh outside centre with the confidence to try a few risky ‘slap-passes’ to his wings. The Italian performance was substandard against Wales, which must obviously be taken into account, and Wales did throw the odd ‘casual’ pass, but don’t let it override what was a happy day for Welsh rugby and where risk was rewarded. Modern rugby needs more of it.
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