Wales analysis as back row hold strong in scrappy win over Italy

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Wales haven’t got off to the most auspicious of starts in the Six Nations in terms of performances but have extended their unbeaten run to a record-equalling 11 games. The win over Italy means they head into round three for a home tie against the also unbeaten England side. Robert Rees has your Wales analysis as the back row go well whilst the lineout crumbled.  

Back row pressure

The back row saw Thomas Young make his first Six Nations start in a Wales jersey. It was an impressive shift alongside Aaron Wainwright and Josh Navidi.

The line speed from the back row applied pressure on Italy. Look at how quickly Young and Wainwright lead the Welsh line, the former making a tackle for Dee’s turnover.

It gave Wales their first points and set the tone for a hard defensive line which Wales look to utilise and gain turnovers from with their plethora of back row talent.

The pressure from Wainwright was relentless and his desire to get up on the attacker is immense. Quick off the mark and with sharp reactions he managed to pick off Italy and set Wales on their way to another attack.

Keeping this up for the entire game will undoubtedly help Wales put pressure on England in round three of the Guinness Six Nations. The physicality of England and their intensity straight from the get-go will push both sides fitness and Wales will have to continue the line speed throughout the game.

21-year old Wainwright proved his durability by not only going out the blocks like a steam train, but showing his durability by maintaining his line speed into the last 10 minutes. Making one of his 10 tackles and disrupting Italy’s attack.

This will be vital in the coming games. Ben Youngs has had quick ball to set England’s attack on their way in both their opening games. Slowing this down and allowing Wales’ defensive line to reset will be key.

High line speed will be required against England

The high line speed may not have been overly required against Italy, but it will be against England. Having a back row that can press high and fast as well as slow down ball and get turnovers at the breakdown will be key.

Warren Gatland has a smorgasbord of talent to choose from for his back row shirts and all are capable of doing the job.

Navidi and Young close the gap to the Italian runners (above) which helps the defensive line set up field. Closing down space on dangerous runners will be key, taking away precious time for them to make a decision.

England may be expected to kick a lot in Cardiff with 80 kicks from hand already in the tournament. Closing down these kicks will be vital in gaining territory.

With 15 tackles, seven carries and one clean break to his name it isn’t hard to see why Thomas Young has been praised so much at Wasps. His dominance at the breakdown once again highlighted by how well he hassles the opposition. Ripping the ball in the tackle to create a turnover for Wales.

Having this turnover ball enables Gatland’s men to go on the offensive from next to nothing and catch out the opposition.

Josh Adams work rate impressive despite heavy targeting

It was clear that Italy were targeting Adams from the amount of receptions he gathered, several of which were straight from kick off. 12 carries, five defenders beaten and a clean break from the try scorer mixed in to balance an all round performance with strong defensive duties relayed.

The first Italian kick-off went to the Worcester man and he ran it back with some considerable gain. Running infield to his support helped put Wales on the front foot and allowed quick ball. Not that it always came. Running back into midfield will aid Wales massively when it comes to getting consistent quick ball, something they’ve struggled with since the loss of Rhys Webb to France.

With a winger who can finish tries and carry over the gain line Wales have a promising counter to England’s kicking game.

Adams’ strong carrying ability enables Wales to bring him in off the wing on purpose. Being the first receiver from lineout ball is nothing new to the test arena, but it does allow Wales to move an extra man out into midfield and force an overlap on the far side. It also allows Wales to cross the gain line and look to kick for territory which Gatland has looked to do since the summer tour.

Here he ties up Parisse to counter-ruck and two men on the floor and Aled Davies can get the ball away.

England will look to utilise their kicking game through Farrell and Daly and chase up to it with their wingers. Adams will be under pressure but will certainly look to run it back at them. With a strong running style he can break tackles and make yards after contact whilst looking to attack space and hold up the time for support to arrive.

Against Italy he was targeted and ran it back with interest. Even managing to get the pass away in the example above. A lot has been made of England’s kicking game, but Wales’ defence of it may well catch some people by surprise.

Lineout needs sorting ahead of England clash

Whilst the scrum was steady throughout the game with a few exceptions the lineout was cause for concern. Bringing back Alun Wyn Jones and Ken Owens will undoubtedly settle things, but there was a much deeper issue in how Wales both defended their ball and that’s if they managed to claim it.

There was a clear lack of cohesion at the lineout between hooker and lifters/jumpers. Dee on this occasion overthrowing Ball before Beard then goes on and complains at the delivery. Wales lost four lineouts during the game and considering it’s a platform they’ve enjoyed gaining success and points from under Gatland in the past 18 months or so that may have been a worry for the coaching staff.

With a few experienced faces set to return to the pack it may not be that much of a worry in the short term but with one eye on the World Cup and rotation being key in the pool stages it could come back to haunt Wales at some point if not rectified.

Wales also had trouble in getting the ball away from the ensuing maul when the drive wasn’t on. In both examples above Braam Steyn steals the ball. Gifting such easy possession to your opposition whilst sitting on their five metre line is something Wales will have to clamp down.

They weren’t clinical enough against Italy, they will have to be in a fortnight’s time at the Principality Stadium. It all comers down to the experienced heads and lack of cohesion, but the ball needs to be at the back of the maul and ready for the scrum half – Aled Davies in this case – to get it away from the prying hands of the opposition back row.

Ensuring there is depth in the Wales squad has been a priority for Gatland since the summer tour. Getting this depth to work as a unit is still a working matter. Dee overthrowing again, this time to Beard shows the lack of work time they seem to be getting.

Wales manage to regather, but are under pressure from the Italian pack and lose the edge to the attacking platform they had earned.

If Wales can rectify these issues heading into round three then there’ll be a titanic clash between the top of the table teams.

Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images