THE SIX Nations was disappointing for Wales and, looking ahead to the World Cup, I’m not optimistic. Before the Six Nations we’d probably have been happy with three wins out of five, but it’s not just about the results. It’s about performance and we never got going.
We only played well in patches and the worst game of all was against France, when we hardly looked like creating anything. We turned over too much ball and gave away too many penalties, probably out of frustration.
We’ve developed a good defensive system and that means we can compete with any side, but we need to play with more ambition and maximise the talent available to us. We’re too predictable and that’s been the same for the past three years. It’s becoming easy for sides to read us.
Our structure doesn’t allow us to do anything other than hit up. If you go 15 or 16 phases and gain five yards, there’s a lot of energy consumed. Warren Gatland would say the defenders consume more, but Wales are constantly looking up and seeing numbers in front of them and then you tend to go lateral. We’re caught between two stools in terms of wanting to play players like James Hook who have creative ability, but using a structure that doesn’t allow us to use their ambition. Gatland has to think long and hard about that. We need to be more ambitious because I think the players we’ve got can handle that.
Our game is too structured and often slow and cumbersome, and sides no longer allow us the space we had when Gatland first came in and developed this style.
We have four games to go (Barbarians on 4 June, England on 6 and 13 Aug, and Argentina on 20 Aug) and we have to use them as a chance to regain form and get confidence. We must change tactics and play with more freedom to get the best out of what we have. If the players go out with a sense of freedom, which a lot of them would prefer, we can do well.
Hook likes to go out and play but I don’t think our game plan allows him to be himself. The key to most successful sides is the ability of players to read situations and make changes during a game.
If we’re talking about playing with more ambition we must have the ability to move ball away quickly from set-pieces and breakdowns, and you need a scrum-half in the Dwayne Peel mould to do that. Mike Phillips is a fine player and an unbelievably committed individual, but with the World Cup in mind Peel needs a chance this summer to show whether his qualities suit Wales if they can shake the shackles off.
I’ve always been a big fan of Stephen Jones and there will still be a role for him and Phillips to play certain games in the World Cup.
Shane Williams says he has played his last Six Nations. As a Welsh fan you want him to play on because he’s still probably the best in the world at creating chances from nothing. But you understand him wanting to finish at the top. Still, we won’t see another Shane for some time.
We need to keep key men like him and Adam Jones fit for the World Cup. Getting to the semis is the target but getting through our group will be a major hurdle.
This article appeared in the May 2011 issue of Rugby World Magazine.
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