Last Ditch Win Should Not Disguise Major Tactical And Skills Issues For Wales

Wales celebrate Carys Phillips' try in their 22-20 victory over Italy. Pic: Getty Images

Last Ditch Win Should Not Disguise Major Tactical And Skills Issues For Wales

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The Women’s Six Nations is over and despite their last ditch win over Italy, Wales were left clutching the wooden spoon. It’s a significant step backwards for coach Ioan Cunningham and his squad and one that needs some problem-solving if they are to go forward again, says Tomas Marks.

It’s been a difficult Women’s Six Nations for Wales captain Hannah Jones and her squad with four losses, one victory and a wooden spoon.

But they did salvage pride against the backdrop of their biggest ever home crowd at the Principality Stadium.

Over 10,00- supporters spurred the team on to victory in the final five minutes against a very competent Italian team.

Last season, Wales managed to finish in third, with impressive victories against Ireland, Scotland and Italy.

Unfortunately, it’s been a very frustrating block of matches for head coach Ioan Cunningham as they should have got over the line against Scotland and been far more competitive against the Irish in Cork.

Incidentally, Saturday was their first win in a year, since beating Italy in Parma last year with a 36-10 triumph. They finally ended a seven-game losing streak.

The positives from this campaign are that they have awarded six new caps, Lleucu George has had a run of five matches at fly-half and back rower Gwennan Hopkins made a try-scoring debut against Ireland.

Also, their front row of Gwenllian Pyrs, Carys Phillips and Sisilia Tuipulotu have been formidable, which allows them to play a power game.

It was pleasing to see that they used common sense in the final match and played with a kicking and power strategy to defeat the Italians.

But in attack they have only scored seven tries from five matches with only one try coming from the backs.

They have had over 40 entries into the opposition red zones but they have only converted seven of those opportunities.

It’s a crying shame that Jasmine Joyce and Kaleigh Powell were unavailable for the last match due to GB Sevens duties as they would have given Wales extra sparkle in attack.

One green shoot for the management team has been fly-half George, who has continued her form from the PWR League, where she gained the player of the month award for her performances in January.

She would have felt frustrated with her missed conversion against Scotland that would have drawn the match, and charge down against Ireland, but she finished the campaign with a match-winning conversion.

She looks set to be in the Wales back line for some time and seems like the next successor to veteran fly-half Elinor Snowsill.

She possesses an excellent kicking game and she will need to work with Shaun Connor to make this even better as she executed two wonderful 50:22 kicks against Italy, but there were a number of skill errors that she will need to eradicate to transition into a quality international.

Alex Callender has been a shining light in the pack and she was first in the W6N for most carries and tackles, with an impressive 70 carries and 74 tackles.

Callender made a staggering 28 tackles against the Irish and a turnover.

Georgia Evans has been industrious, as well, in the pack with four turnovers, 46 carries and 60 tackles. She was third in the number of ruck arrivals in attack with an outrageous 104.

It’s been quite apparent that Wales are trying to find their attacking identity but with a front row of 311kg and an excellent kicking fly-half, the common sense approach would be to continue playing with a power and kicking game.

Unfortunately, in this campaign they were trying to keep the ball on the pitch with their exit kicking strategy, but it would be far more sensible to get the ball off the pitch and apply pressure on opposition teams through set pieces.

Their exit completion was 25% against the Irish and this contributed to the unexpected loss.

However, against Italy their exit completion was slightly higher at 42% and relieved pressure on the team.

Defensively, they have conceded 24 tries and they have been undone by variety, speed, power and transition from defence to attack of opposition teams.

The French scored a total of six tries against Wales but two were interceptions, one from a quick throw-in and another from a turnover scrum.

England, in contrast, scored eight tries against Wales with five through pure power play.

One element that is missing from the Welsh attack compared to other teams is threatening runners.

Ireland have the back rower Aaoife Wafer, England have the sensational Ellie Kildunne, France have centre Gabrielle Vernier and flanker Romane Menager, and the Italian back line was full of danger.

The back line failed to fire in this campaign with only Keira Bevan scoring from a quick tap and go.

The back line plays were blunt, with the ball-player passing too early and the decoy runners running with no animation.

The back line should get better with more experience and connection as the average number of caps in the backs was 15, compared to 34 in the forwards.

There was some forward innovation with the “funny plays” in the line-out in this final match, but there needs to be a shift in mentality of the team attack as there was no Welsh player in the top 25 in terms of line-breaks.

If Wales are going move up the World Rugby rankings and the W6N table – and qualify for the Rugby World Cup in 2025 – they need to seriously refresh the attack.

They must also persist with making the set piece and kicking game better and find more genuine ball-carriers.

There are just not enough dangerous and powerful carriers in the back row or centre to distress and fluster top five defences.

It will be another exciting opportunity and challenge for the women to now grow and develop in the next block of matches.

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