Welsh rugby looked in a good place a year ago, with only a late Fourie Du Preez try knocking them out of the 2015 Rugby World Cup at the quarter-finals. But with just three wins in their last 10 tests, what has gone wrong for Wales?
Wales were destroyed by Australia at the Principality Stadium on Saturday. Brian Moore, writing in the Daily Telegraph, described it as “a resounding loss” which included “one of the most one-sided halves of rugby witnessed in modern Test rugby”. It is impossible to disagree. So why are Wales in “professional rugby’s Middle Ages”?
The answer is that Wales are just too predictable. And to compound matters, they don’t have a plan B. ‘Warrenball’ relies on forward dominance and the power of Jamie Roberts, Alex Cuthbert and George North in the backs. Without Taulupe Faletau and Alan Wyn Jones up front, such as against Australia, Wales will struggle to effect their game plan.
One has to wonder why the Wales coaches are so one-dimensional that they insist on an approach that is unlikely to yield much fruit. In the modern game, teams need to be adaptable. Wales aren’t.
Mark Orders, writing for Wales Online, rightly questioned whether Wales’ staid approach was due to Welsh stalwarts being unable to keep pace with rugby’s transitions.
“Jamie Roberts is 30 this week. He has been fundamental to the game-plan Warren Gatland has wanted over the past eight years, with his immense power and ability to win the gainline.
“But how difficult is it for a player much closer to the end of his career than the start to reinvent himself as a big man with big plays. A centre who can fizz out passes and create, as well as truck the ball up the middle and act as a target for his pack?
“Similarly, is it possible for the 58-cap Dan Lydiate to morph into a multi-skilled No. 6 with soft hands as well as thunder in defence? He tackled as well as anyone against Australia, but the Test game is increasingly demanding even more these days.”
But although people can bemoan the lack of form shown by Wales’ power runners, I would also look to the coaching staff and wonder whether a change is not also needed there. Gatland has been at the helm for nearly a decade, as have Rob Howley and Shaun Edwards. With a staid management regime, is it any wonder Wales look bereft of new ideas?
Whilst it is too early to be writing the triumvirate’s Wales obituaries, we should consider whether Wales would not be more suited to the style of rugby championed by Dai Young at Wasps. This fast game would give Wales the chance to get back to their traditional, expansive game. But more than just a show-pony, Young is a winner who is transforming Wasps into a European force.
The reason things have gone wrong for Wales is not too dissimilar to the reason why they went right earlier in Gatland’s tenure. The problem is that rugby has moved on and you need to adapt to stay ahead of the pack.
Wales’ next opponents, Argentina, should provide the blueprint. For years they played 10-man rugby. Now, they’re as adventurous as they come. Wales need to match their style to avoid a repeat of the Australia debacle against the Pumas.
Daniel Rey, Pundit Arena