The 36 phases Ireland went through against Wales were an example of no depth or width in attacking play. Sure it was raining and handling was tricky, footing might even have been a tad unsure, but it was no excuse.
Wales were flat quite a bit too, but they played a wide game, which would have made them more succesful, had they not failed to cash in on the opportunities they created with it. Of course, France and Italy were far worse in this regard. England too were flat often. Only Scotland played a deep and wide game, but they are Scotland and did not really make a fist of it against their oldest rivals.
There are basic truths about rugby that everyone knows, but seems to forget from time to time. The first of these truths is that you need space to get up to speed. Backs tend to need more space than forwards to do so. This has to do with ability, but a lot with training and conditioning too.
Forwards at all levels spend most of their time doing the graft work: short bursts of power when joining rucks or mauls, taking short balls into contact, and longer stretches of moderate speed when they make it to the next phase.
Backs usually have more space and time to get up to speed, change their stride from short steps to lifting their knees and getting to a true sprint. This is why a backline tries to stand off and find some depth.
For the same reasons as you want a deep line, you try not to give balls to players standing still. You try to pass in front of them as they sprint up. This way they can get up to speed and maximise their impact. With an alert defence, failing to do this in fact makes you lose ground, as they speed up to tackle a player standing still.
A second truth is that you try not to play a slow ball from the ruck into the backs. The defence is set and alert, making it hard for the attacking side to break through. It is much better to play short, trying to disrupt the defence and then play the line.
A third truth is about defence. If you stretch your attacking line, the defence has to follow, which makes the gaps between defenders bigger, or risk overlaps.
It seemed there were several times this weekend, particularly during the Ireland-Wales match, that all of this had been forgotten. Ireland took a huge load of short crash balls, then played slower balls into the backline, which was flat. They often gave balls to men standing still and when passing to Keith Earls, Andrew Trimble and Simon Zebo on the outside, they gave the balls as they slowed down and drifted to the outside, taking away their advantages of speed and manoeuvrability. Wales made the same mistakes, so did France and Italy.
The other thing that was very clear looking at Ireland was how flat their line was on many occassions. A flat line means the backs have no space to gather speed or manouevre, leaving nothing but the crash ball on. Adding to that, the forwards were often between Connor Murray and Johnny Sexton, which forced Murray to play short.
Only once was this actually succesful, when Murray gave the dummy pass and dotted the ball down himself. That was a brilliant piece of individual play, but it was very typical of what was wrong too.
Wales too made these mistakes, which meant their outside backs were barely involved. Jamie Roberts was brilliant, but we barely saw George North or Liam Williams. With a team that has such strength in the backs, that is a mortal sin.
France, Ireland, Italy and Wales all made another mistake, which coaches try to drill out of you at age level, namely getting drawn towards the play. When the players get drawn towards the phase, it shortens their line and allows the defence to close up. That then robs the attack of strength as much as a lack of speed. With no real gaps to run into, only crash balls remain.
On the few occasions they did go wide, they ended up cutting across their wingers and running away from support, or giving the ball to their winger with no space to work with.
While the comparison between northern and southern hemisphere sides might begin to annoy people, the fact remains that the southern teams do these very basics right, and right now most of the Six Nations countries do not. And unless they have resigned themselves to playing like grunts, they really do have to change this.
Paul Peerdeman, Pundit Arena