Should Wales embrace the plucky loser tag?
Everyone respects a trier, do they not? Before we look at what this tag means and whether it applies to Wales or not, let’s examine some of the talking points from Saturday’s early evening game. Should Wales embrace the plucky loser tag?
Wales were much improved on their performance from the week prior against the All-Blacks. There were some fine showings from Ellis Jenkins and Taine Basham again (after a sterling effort last week), and to be honest most of the Welsh team gave a solid account of themselves. They kept themselves in the fight throughout but South Africa dotted down in the seventy-fourth minute for the only try of the game. Malcom Marx scoring after a line-out drive.
Prior to the South Africa score, Wales were prevented a try-scoring opportunity when a pitch invader managed to get onto the turf. The stewards were able to apprehend him but not before he’d partially obscured Liam Williams out wide who had about fifteen metres to the line. Had Williams slightly overrun the pass, meaning he needed to check his run and reduce speed? Would he have scored in the corner? There were three covering South African defenders and although the try was a possibility it was by no means a given.
For many, this defeat may have the feeling of a victory. Good performance, run the reigning World Cup champions close and everyone’s happy. However, is this line of thinking helpful long term? Prior to Saturday’s match Wales had beaten South Africa on four consecutive occasions at home in Cardiff (as well as a win on neutral ground in the US in 2018). South Africa won the one that really mattered, the World Cup semi-final in Japan 2019. Which brings me to the main point, Should Wales embrace the plucky loser tag?
It was good to see Jon Davies in the post-match interview talk about being frustrated. Sure there were some positives to take from the match but, might Wales fans and media be in danger of getting carried away? This was after all a decent showing against a rusty South African side.
The plucky loser tag is one that is difficult to shift. Wales overperformed under Warren Gatland and after numerous Six Nations triumphs, good showings at World Cups and flirtations with the number one ranking, it looked like Wales might lose this tag. Being a plucky loser is something that not only Wales sometimes embrace, but the other Celtic Nations also.
Top teams in any sport have individuals within them who have ice in their veins. There was passion and heart in the Welsh performance for all to see today and don’t get me wrong, that’s needed too. Is there enough ice though, to go with the blood and thunder? When Wales are in the opponent’s red zone: Is the decision-making correct? Are they being clinical enough? Being ‘streetwise’ applies in defence too. As well as smashing the attacking team back in contact. Can we slow up the opposing team? Can we make them cough up the ball, or give away a penalty?
Belief matters too. New Zealand and South Africa very rarely think they are beaten, whatever the scoreboards say. If Wales beat Fiji and Australia in this year’s Autumn Internationals, the series can be viewed as about par. Anything less and it doesn’t inspire confidence eighteen months out from the World Cup. That’s with the caveat of injuries and player unavailability due to some of the games falling outside the international window.
This isn’t an attack on Wayne Pivac or the players. They are giving their all and giving a good account of themselves. Wales needs another five to ten percent but that might mean improvements to the domestic game allowing the international side to flourish at the summit of the game.
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