Is it make or break time for Pivac’s Wales?

Wayne Pivac's Wales

Is it make or break time for Pivac’s Wales?

The Welsh international men’s rugby team are coming off the back of a thumping 54-16 loss to the All-Blacks. Yes, at one stage Wales were less than scores away from New Zealand but however you want to dress the result up, it was a resounding loss. This is taking into account contentious refereeing decisions which when the dust has settled, tend to even themselves out. What’s more important is to quickly move on and improve. With South Africa, Fiji and Australia on the horizon, is it make or break time for Pivac’s Wales?

Make or break time?

The answer to this is not yet. Pivac and Wales are not drinking in the last chance saloon but they will be should results not go their way in next year’s Six nations. There were some interesting takeaways to be gleaned from the result on Saturday. One of them isn’t however that Wales didn’t have their full complement of players to choose from. Realistically speaking it’s a given that any rugby side are going to lose players for various reasons: injury, unavailability or for personal reasons like the birth of a child.

Takeaways from Wales versus New Zealand

The takeaways that in my opinion need looking at are: game management, tactical awareness and that slightly less tangible matter of being “streetwise”. Without wanting to be too negative I would like to give credit where credit is due. The Welsh international players make enormous sacrifices to get to the top, or close to the top of the tree. Every time they take to the field it is a huge honour, but also a huge risk that could leave them injured. The coach also puts in hour upon hour into developing his team. Do the players always follow the instructions that they have been given? Both players and coaches should be respected. Huge pressure is also piled on them by fans (armchair or otherwise!) and journalists alike.

So, to the takeaways. Why is it that when Wales face New Zealand that we try and beat them at their own game? They are the masters of their style so why try and emulate them? Secondly, why are Wales unwilling to play close to the legal limits when they face the All-Blacks? If it was England, Scotland, Ireland et al; Wales wouldn’t have any issue. This might mean slowing the ball down in a ruck, playing a man off the ball, getting in the ref’s ear, either pre-match or during, and so on. Do Wales give their betters, so to speak, too much respect? This article is not advocating foul or dangerous play. It’s asking the question, do Wales lack the intangible “streetwise” aspect to their play?

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Tactical awareness and game management

Moving onto tactical awareness and game management. Have Wales become reluctant to put the ball up their jumper and keep possession? The more possession Wales would have had, the less likely New Zealand could have hurt them. This theory is an old one and increasingly unfashionable but what’s required is tactical flexibility. There are times when embracing this style is required and it should be part of a multi-faceted armoury.

An example of trying to fight fire with fire, refusing to play to your strengths and coming up short would be England versus Australia in the 1991 World Cup final. England abandoned their (some would say) dour brand of possession-based rugby in order to play a more attractive, loose style. Whether it is true or a rugby myth, it led to a bust up at half-time between the captain, Will Carling who was in favour of throwing the ball around and entertaining the crowd, and Brian Moore who wanted to revert to the forward dominated low-risk game that had been successful in the years leading up to the final.

Back to Wales, who kicked away possession to New Zealand’s dangermen. This could and should have been avoided. In all honesty they are the best at counter attacking from deep so it is nigh-on impossible to stop, but kicking away possession isn’t how to go about doing it.

The Gallagher Premiership over the last couple of years has seen teams embrace a style which says, “You might score three or four tries, but we are going to outscore you, with five or six.” While this is hugely entertaining for the paying crowds, are we saying that this is the model that the northern hemisphere sides want to adopt? Is that what will aid us in defeating the southern hemisphere teams that have a stranglehold on the Rugby World Cup?

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