Warren Gatland Only Needs Three Things With Wales . . . New Players, New Strategy, And New Attitude

James Lowe of Ireland breaks through the Wales defence. Pic: Getty Images.

Warren Gatland Only Needs Three Things With Wales . . . New Players, New Strategy, And New Attitude

Wales coach Warren Gatland is set to name his team on Thursday afternoon to face Scotland this weekend in round two of the Six Nations. There’s been plenty to ponder after the heavy defeat at home to Ireland, as Tomas Marks outlines with his deep dive review.

Having delved into the statistics after the Wales and Ireland match, the Irish were in imperious form in Cardiff with their back row shining bright.

Caelan Doris, Josh van der Flier and Peter O’Mahony were faultless in the back row battle, conceding no penalties, 98% tackle success and Flier and Doris carrying the ball forward a metre more per carry than Justin Tipuric and Taulupe Faletau.

Not only did they shine in the back row, though. They were also dominant in the front five as  their engine room carried the ball forward more than their counterparts with 58 metres gained compared to the lowly 18 metres by the Welsh.

The international game is won on small margins but this wasn’t the case on Saturday as the world number ones were superior by 24% in the line-out and the replacements were 25% more accurate in their tackling.

Ken Owens and Taulupe Faletau were industrious in defence with both players “going to the well” for their country with Owens completing 15 and Faletau making 21 tackles.

However, the talismanic pair couldn’t make an impact in attack as their carries were nullified by the Irish.

Unusually, both players only made half a metre per carry and Faletau, remarkably, only made six metres from 13 carries.

Irish defence coach Simon Easterby, having coached Owens during his tenure as Scarlets head coach in 2012 to 2014, put together a cunning plan to outwit the Sheriff of Wales.

Wales’ Alun Wyn Jones. Pic: Getty Images.

The Irish defenders doubled-tackled Faletau and prevented him using his footwork and the Irish really muscled up against Owens with big hits from bigger players like James Ryan, Doris and O’Mahony to prevent the leader going forward.

This was clearly a strategy to put the dominant tacklers against captain Owens and it worked.

In terms of the Welsh kicking strategy, they tried to keep the ball on the pitch but in hindsight it would have been better to kick the ball off the pitch and stop the Irish gaining any flow and momentum and getting into an unassailable lead.

Once the Irish gain a lead in recent times they don’t relinquish it and they embrace being front runners.

There were signs of spring in the Welsh attack with a clever line-out play in the build-up to the first try and lovely hand speed from Joe Hawkins to set up the Liam Williams try.

However, Gatland would have been frustrated with the discipline in the first half and inaccuracy of key decision makers.

The first Irish try was preventable as Williams should have let the ball run over the try line and allow the team to recover, reset and defend a goal line drop out.

However, they were defending a red zone line-out in the first couple of minutes and a chance for Ireland to gain a fast start.

Wales compounded the slow start by giving away nine penalties in the first half and an interception try to effectively gift the match to the Irish after 40 minutes.

Gatland will need to make big decisions on the combinations at second row, back row and centre for the Scottish match as they lacked penetration against Ireland.

Also, they picked Rio Dyer on the left wing but he’s been tearing up trees as a right winger for the Dragons.

This tweak in the selection didn’t work as he failed to take an interception and finish the hack through against Hugo Keenan as a left winger.

Dyer prefers to step off his left foot and take defenders on the outside and he kept cutting back into traffic from the left wing.

Dave Brailsford, the famous British cycling coach, talks of marginal gains and to get the best out Dyer going forward it would be to select him on the right wing as he can use all his running, catching and kicking weapons.

James Lowe is an out and out lefty in hands and feet and Ireland utilise his super strengths to kick for territory and to pick off interceptions with his dominant left hand and foot.

You could see this policy from his interception try in the first half.

Williams was a welcome late addition to the Welsh team as it added more threat to the attack but he did receive his fifth yellow card of his Wales career.

The British Lion is a wonderful player who plays on the edge, but with the current tackle laws and over officiating he is a player that is becoming a high risk to the team.

In fairness to Ireland they were coherent and expeditious, despite the late pull outs in the morning of the match.

Over the past year the Irish have been magnificent and their ball-carrying, ball placement and speed of recycled ball is unrivaled in world rugby at this stage.

It’s no wonder the veterans of Connor Murray and Jonathan Sexton, combined age of 70, are still playing on the global stage with that amazing platform.

Currently, Ireland possess the world’s best players down the spine of their team with Hugo Keenan at full back, Sexton at fly-half, Doris at eight, van der Flier at seven and Tadhg Furlong, when fit, at tight-head.

Despite not ever progressing past the quarter finals in the Rugby World Cup, they are genuine contenders for the Webb Ellis trophy in September.

For Wales, this match would have given them a good indication of where they are as a squad compared to the best.

Wales will need to improve across every department but the most disappointing aspect of all was their desire to defend.

Every coach knows that a team defends when it cares, so Gatland and his new coaching team need a deeper connection with the current squad.

As the nation awaits the news of the 23 man squad for Murrayfield, will Gatland roll the dice?

One of Gatland’s greatest assets is his selection and he needs to be ruthless, like picking Jonathan Davies over Brian O’Driscoll with the 2013 Lions and Owen Farrell over Ben Te’o in the 2017 Lions series.

Gregor Townsend and Andy Farrell got their selection spot on for the opening round and Gatland will need to follow suit in round two as he needs to decide whether to stick or twist with his golden generation of Lions and Grand Slammers.



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