Paul Williams provides his reflections on Wales’ 22-20 win over South Africa in Washington DC
Wales win three on the bounce against South Africa
There are many Welsh things that look disgusting but taste good. Cockles and lavabread being fine examples. Wales’ 22-20 victory over the Springboks – their third in a row againt South Africa – also falls into this category.
Many argued over the validity of the fixture before it had even kicked off and the quality of the second-string teams was evident immediately. The number of handling errors was high, even when taking the conditions into consideration. With new combinations and numerous players out of position, disjointed attacking and defensive patterns were inevitable.
It wasn’t until the arrival of Hadleigh Parkes, and his direct carries, that Wales were able to fix defenders and move the ball wide with any regularity. It is worth noting that the handling of the Welsh backs, whilst unstable, was superior to South Africa.
The South African back-line turned the ball over 15 times – compare that to Castres and Montpellier whose back-lines turned the ball over just five times each in the Top 14 final and you get an idea of just how disjointed things were for the Boks.
It appears that many supporters have taken little joy from the game, but Warren Gatland certainly will. Gatland will be pleased that his second XV is better than South Africa’s, which is a big positive for squad depth, and he can also book flights to Japan for Ellis Jenkins and Tomos Williams.
Tomos Williams has arrived
Cardiff Blues supporters have long been aware of Tomos Williams’s ability – he has kept Lloyd Williams on the bench at Cardiff Arms Park all season – but after his performance against South Africa, the wider public will also be aware.
Tomos Williams is the perfect blend of the old and new school scrum-half. His pass is immaculate, but he can also mix it up with back-row forwards – as his try proved. It’s as if Dwayne Peel’s mother went out on a night out with Mike Phillips’s dad and they got on really, really well.
Williams’s cut-out passes, straight to the Welsh centres, were rare examples of passing fluidity from Wales and his double chargedown was pure Mike Phillips.
Social media went into meltdown when Williams took his eye off the ball briefly at the base of the ruck, but don’t let it taint what was an immaculate performance. With Rhys Webb packing his bags for Toulon, the Welsh No 9 shirt is anyone’s and it could well be Williams’s come the World Cup.
Where was the ‘latch’?
The ‘latch’ is the term given to the supporting player/players who attach to the ball-carrier and help drive them forward into and through contact. It is vital in modern rugby, especially with double tackles becoming the norm, but it is often one of the first things to disappear when squads consist of players who are unfamiliar with each other’s carrying lines. And it was evidently absent in the first half against South Africa.
On numerous occasions, Wales sent single carriers into contact without a single latch in sight. It resulted in some usually very consistent ball-carriers being smashed backwards in the tackle. Being driven backwards isn’t just an issue of rugby vanity; it means the ruck cleanout becomes far more difficult, as your players have to run backwards to enter through the ‘gate’, whereas the defending team are now running forwards.
Isolated carriers may not have cost Wales the game in Washington, but that won’t be the case in Argentina. Needs addressing.
Ellis Jenkins the instant captain
Most instant things are crap. Adding hot water to coffee or powdered mash leads to a very unsatisfactory experience. That is unless it’s Ellis Jenkins.
With rain and temperatures of 25 degrees, the hot water was added to the Cardiff Blues openside and boom, you’ve got a Test performance and a Test captain in seconds.
It was a remarkable example of composure, where all around him people were not only losing their heads but also their feet and the ball. When mistakes were made, and there were many, Jenkins cleaned them up.
This match may have been of little importance to the rugby public, but to Jenkins it was pivotal. Wales is awash with quality opensides and it is his leadership that may separate him from the rest when the big decisions are made during the next 12 months.
When you take TV coverage for granted
We’ve all done it. Sat in a pub slagging off a TV broadcaster for their rugby coverage. We all have our favourite broadcasters and often take them for granted. It is not until you see poor broadcasting that you appreciate what you once had.
Channel 4’s coverage of the Wales v Boks game made what was a hard watch in rugby terms, a near impossible watch in production terms. At times it felt like Salvador Dali was behind the camera given the weird angles.
And whilst I’m certain that all of the commentators and summarisers were in the same location, the difference in sound levels made it seem like some were in Washington DC and others were 3,000 miles away in Washington State.
In fairness, many of the mistakes weren’t down to Channel 4, as the broadcast was seemingly outsourced. But that isn’t the rugby public’s concern and it certainly won’t be who they blame. Channel 4 have a lot of work to do to avoid their coverage having the same reputation as Elton Jantjies’s hairdresser.
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