After a humdinger in Auckland, RW looks at Wales' welcome ambition, a tweak to their blitz defence, Dan Biggar's speed of thought and the All Blacks' depths of reserve
Wales use the left side of their brain
Despite a 39-21 defeat at Eden Park, and a last twenty minutes where the All Blacks’ superior ball control dominated, Wales were competitive and more importantly, creative. The set piece was the equal of the AB’s and Sam Warburton and Ross Moriarty caused big problems at the breakdown – helping Wales to achieve near parity with both possession and territory (46% possession and 47% territory). But, as largely impressive as the basics were, it was Wales’ desire to take a risk that was as encouraging as it was necessary – Wales haven’t liked taking risks over the past two years and have tended to approach rugby with the exuberance and confidence of a pensioner walking in the damp.
The use of Alun Wyn Jones as a distributor once again proved effective and allowed Wales to hold the All Black’s defence narrow, before moving wide – AWJ passed the ball more than any of Wales’ outside backs. Liam Williams’ desire to cut the line from any angle, from anywhere, was hugely effective and Wales also allowed Taulupe Faletau to stay wide, and carry wide whenever possible – in the mould of a Kiwi number eight which he is more than capable of doing. But above all, the most impressive aspect of Wales’ performance was the 23 man commitment to attack from deep, ignoring the easy safe carries, and take the occasional risk. Wales will need to take even more risks next week if they are to remain competitive – four tries will be a minimum requirement.
All Blacks rusty, but still lethal
Just because something is rusty doesn’t mean it can’t hurt you. The slashes of a rusty knife may not kill you as quickly as a shiny new one, but the blood poisoning will eventually get you. And so it was at Eden Park. You’ll rarely see the All Blacks fumble so much ball at the breakdown and the next two tests certainly won’t feature as many handling errors in midfield. But even at 80% the 23-man skillset was a joy to watch. When the handling did work, it was ‘velcro’ like – the interplay between their locks and loose forwards is the best in the world.
But the most remarkable facet of the AB’s performance was the metres carried -784 metres to Wales’ 396. Waisake Naholo carried 180 metres on his own, an astonishing number even with kick returns included. For a team to carry 784 metres when rusty is quite something. In fact, it’s more than quite something, it’s actually quite frightening.
Can’t repeatedly blitz the All Blacks
Wales’ defence, under the watch of Shaun Edwards, relies hugely on an aggressive blitz. But whilst it can be massively effective, the All Blacks once again proved that repeatedly blitzing them can be risky. Unlike any other team in the world, they have a number of players who can pass over, kick through or chip over the blitz. Aaron Cruden’s kick passes were hugely effective and led directly to the opening try and Kieran Read, the Kiwi No 8, threw a beautiful miss two over the top of the Welsh defensive line.
As the All Blacks illustrated on Saturday, they’re lethal once they flood through the defensive line and regularly had three or four passing options available post line-break. On occasion their ball carriers were surrounded by so much black that it looked as though they’d turned the lights off in Eden Park.
‘Super’ Liam Williams, Rhys Webb and George North.
It was fitting that an 8.30am kick-off in the UK induced some Super Rugby from Liam Williams, Rhys Webb and George North. Even the ever dazzling Smith’s – Ben and Aaron – were fighting for the photographer’s lens during the first 40 minutes.
Williams’ and Webb’s desire to attack from anywhere was the platform on which the Welsh performance was built and from which North benefitted – Williams’ 30 yard quick lineout, in his own half, being a fine example. To truly compete in the next two tests, Wales may need to increase this creative mind-set in the midfield, which will hopefully provide Williams and North with even more opportunities to hit the line.
Dan Biggar – Re’mark’able.
The simple calling of a ‘mark’ in the 22 isn’t usually noteworthy. Indeed calling a ‘mark’ is one of the least inspiring parts of rugby. It’s one of rugby’s administrative activities – it’s rugby’s ‘filing’, if you will. However, Dan Biggar’s mark, in the 54th, was probably one of the most remarkable in the history of the sport. Usually a player intending to make a ‘mark’ will have at least three to four seconds of decision making time.
By the time the attacker has kicked the ball, and the ball has hung in the air, the defender has a large window in which to make a decision. Biggar took about 0.000012 seconds to catch, call, and clear – there are mainframes at NASA that don’t compute that quickly.
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