Wales are in action today for round two of the Six Nations when they face Ireland. Ben Gould takes a look at the key areas and assesses the options as Wayne Pivac and his team bid for a first tournament victory in Dublin since 2012.
It will be easier said than done for Wales to continue their transition to the wider, more expansive blueprint of Wayne Pivac.
The players’ core skills of catching and passing whilst engaging defenders, will inherently be subject to a more intense scrutiny in the wider channels.
But it is often the overlooked, inglorious work of clearing rucks that decides whether an attacking move is successful or not. Attacking space out wide spreads the players of both teams more thinly across the field, increasing the likelihood of an attacking player becoming isolated.
When tackled, it is vitally important that the nearest player is able to successfully clear jackalling defenders away from the ball – and never more so than against Ireland. If the first clear-out is unsuccessful, the next supporting player will naturally be that extra bit further away, giving the defender the split second required to steal the ball.
In the modern game, hitting rucks has become as important as the set piece. Successfully clearing a potential threat from a ruck, can be as influential as a flat pass, fizzed across the gain-line.
Without being overly convincing last week, Ireland saw off a fierce Scottish challenge in Dublin. After losing debutant Caelen Doris to a nasty head knock in the opening minutes, Ireland were able to bring the experienced Peter O’Mahoney from the bench, who played his part in a typically stubborn defensive display.
All three of the Irish back row secured crucial turnovers, as 10 Scottish ventures into the Irish 22 resulted in just three points conceded.
Ireland are one of many teams that employ the cute tactic of having the tackler roll away into the path of the incoming supporting player.
The aim is to impede the next attacking player, just enough to reduce the ruck collision, but not enough for the referee to award a penalty. This small, but significant contribution, is often the difference between retaining possession and conceding a penalty, and was used to perfection last week.
Clearing rucks is an exhausting, thankless task. However, if Wales are to win in Dublin, then players like Jake Ball and Wyn Jones will have to negate the threat of the Irish poachers.
The appointment of Sam Warburton as a technical breakdown coach will be invaluable to the Welsh team, and he will no doubt equip the players with the very latest breakdown trickery.
Storm Ciara is forecast to cause havoc across the UK and Ireland over the weekend and it is unlikely that either team will be able to show their full hand in attack.
Common sense suggests that wet and windy conditions will play into Irish hands and they will rely on a sturdy scrum and accurate kicking to squeeze Wales to death.
In Andrew Conway, Ireland have one of the most trustworthy players under the high ball and they will look to him to regain possession in the Welsh half.
Against the Italians, Wales diverted from their strict “long and on” kicking policy, preferring instead to find touch. Dan Biggar, Johnny McNicoll and Leigh Halfpenny all chose to run from the back field, instead of the “up and under” Welsh fans have grown accustomed to.
With grim conditions forecast, Wales must choose their moments to run, and when kicking they must do so with accuracy and purpose.
Nick Tompkins provided Wayne Pivac with his first selection headache, such was the quality of his performance from the bench last week. His reward of a start at outside centre has resulted in a shoot-out for the right wing spot between George North and Johnny McNicoll.
McNicoll provided extra zip in attack, and looked comfortable stepping in at first and second receiver. His role as the link between Biggar and the outside backs,gave Wales a threat that has been missing for a number of years.
He is not renowned for his defensive play, however, and the prospect of lining up against the dangerous Jacob Stockdale has persuaded Pivac to plump for the experience and bulk of North – an understandable decision given the conditions.
In 2019, Wales proved that playing breathtaking rugby is not always required to win a Grand Slam. All that matters is getting over the line in the tight games.
Scotland are the perfect example of the opposite – a team that is capable of producing high quality moments, but are severely lacking in killer instinct.
Wales’ fate in Dublin will not be decided by intricate attacking moves, It will come down to who can deliver the very basics when it matters most.