Snared: George North is stopped in his tracks against France. Pic: Getty Images.

Wales Are Runners-Up, But The Truth Is They Have Stood Still

The dust has settled on the Six Nations and the ink has dried on the cheque given to the WRU for finishing runners-up in a tight contest for second place. But Robin Davey says the extra cash has come at a cost.

 Building for the future. That was at least, in part, what the Six Nations was meant to all about.

But Wales, despite finishing a creditable second, went backwards in style and, incredibly, have no idea who their best No.10 is.

They started with all guns blazing against Scotland, a bonus point with four tries in the bag, but instead of building on that they reverted to type and ended up in a fog, with seemingly no idea of how to unlock the French defence.

The flair, the excitement of that opener, completely disappeared and the paltry single try they managed against France came courtesy of a defensive howler by outside-half Francois Trinh-Duc, who, virtually handed the game to Wales on a plate by also missing a dropped goal and a sitter of a penalty late on.

How did Wales’ fortunes fluctuate so crazily and how come they have still not settled on their No.10 even though they had the whole Six Nations to do so?

I reckon someone on high had a word with coach Warren Gatland, informing him the Welsh Rugby Union stood to profit by more than £3m if they could finish second in the tournament as opposed to the fifth place they would probably have occupied had they lost.

Warren Gatland. Pic: Getty Images.

Ever in need of money to fund the entire game, the WRU badly wanted that victory against an improving and imposing French unit. So, victory was even more imperative and in order to achieve that the team reverted to safety first.

We had a pretty good idea of the conservative approach which would be adopted by the choice of Dan Biggar at outside-half, taking over from Gareth Anscombe, who, in turn, had replaced Rhys Patchell.

We are all well aware of Biggar’s strengths – sound in every respect, but essentially defensive and a kicking ten, but not exactly adept at opening up and getting his three-quarters moving smoothly – not to mention his constant questioning of refereeing decisions.

So, against France, the ball was hoisted high and mighty, but the line was static and incapable of threatening the French line.

Compare that with the first game against Scotland when Patchell held the keys to number 10. There was pace and flair and an excitement about Welsh back play in contrast to some of the dire crash ball stuff we have endured for years.

The second game against England proved a different kettle of fish when Patchell was targeted and to an extent he struggled, replaced in the second half by Anscombe.

But why discard Patchell altogether? Why not even include him in the match day 23? Instead, it was Anscombe and Biggar who got the nod with Patchell nowhere to be seen.

Rhys Patchell shone against Scotland. Pic: Getty Images.

Wales now face up to two Tests against Argentina this summer, plus a Test against South Africa in America en route, with no idea about what style to adopt and without a clue who should be the 10 to orchestrate it. Nice one!

The onus is now on Gatland to decide who his 10 should be and stick with him. In the opinion of many, after the way he has played for the Scarlets this season, that player should be Patchell.

There are some bonuses. It’s not all doom and gloom. Given that Ireland are by far the best team in the northern hemisphere, Wales performed pretty well to finish second, relegating England to fifth place, their worst position since 1983.

And they did unearth some new talent while significantly improving their depth as the World Cup approaches next year.

Among the backs, Hadleigh Parkes came from nowhere to nail himself on in the centre while Steff Evans emerged as a potent threat on the wing.

Up front, Cory Hill and Aaron Shingler have established themselves as first choices while Wales proved how well blessed they are at No.7 – Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric and James Davies all playing there while a certain Sam Warburton is on his way back, and we haven’t even mentioned Ellis Jenkins, Thomas Young and Ollie Griffiths. How England would love a couple of those!

The clue from here on in is to manage resources up to the World Cup. A start has been made in the shape of irreplaceable captain Alun Wyn Jones signing a new NDC to remain with the Ospreys and an assurance that his games will be strictly monitored.

Given that the strength in depth has been improved during the Six Nations – the one real positive – there is every chance that will be achieved.

Alun Wyn Jones. Pic: Getty Images.

What remains to be seen, though, is whether the creativity and style they showed against Scotland can be repeated on a regular basis and whether they can finally settle on an outside-half.

Ireland have shown the way by managing their players perfectly and restricting the number of games their leading players can appear in.

That has kept them relatively fresh and they appear to have had little trouble replacing regulars like Paul O’Connell, Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy while Jamie Heaslip has been forced to retire and Sean O’Brien has been missing through injury.

Inspirational coach Joe Schmidt blooded a series of newcomers who became regulars. Andrew Porter, James Ryan and Dan Leavy established themselves while Jacob Stockdale became a try-scoring machine, his tally of eight a Six Nations record.

They even made light of losing Robbie Henshaw as Garry Ringrose stepped back in from injury to play a brilliant role in Ireland’s stroll to their third Grand Slam.

Such sensible management is now essential for Wales if they are to have any hope in the World Cup.

Settle on a squad, settle on a style, and settle on a No.10.

 

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