This game left the viewer with more questions than answers with regard to Wales’ progress. The hosts Wales did win this Fiji test yet, the topics and conversation continued with an improving Fijian national team providing a stern test for Wales.
Of note, the two teams meet once more in the group stages of the Rugby World Cup 2023 in France, so questions are over this outcome. For significant parts of the game, the visitors led on the scoreboard. They continued to compete, right to the end – even when the Pacific Islanders were reduced to 14 men. An apparent stiff-arm tackle midway through the first half, the South Seas men were punished on the field.
Why or how Wales was not able to finish stronger opens new questions. Answers did come although, they must be produced in the last International of the year on Saturday.
Wales win Fiji test yet, there are ‘more questions than answers’
Wales’ set-piece was marginally improved against Fiji, which given their struggles at scrum and line-out was a relief. The backline still hasn’t managed to fire with Wales into their third game of the Autumn Series. Given how good Ireland, England, and Scotland’s backs have looked at times; this is a worry.
Thomas Booth examines elements that scatter through the Welsh game, and has pointed out, made assessment, and completed analysis for Last Word on Rugby.
#WALvFIJ – Positive points
Plus points in the backline for the Welsh were: Liam Williams was solid under the high ball, Willis Halaholo looked dangerous when he came on, and the returning Alex Cuthbert cut an imposing and physical figure on the wing and weighed in with a well-taken try.
In the forwards: Ellis Jenkins continued his good form and barring injury looks like a Six Nations starter, Ryan Elias carried on rebuilding his reputation, after a difficult game against the All-Blacks in the Autumn Series opener, and Adam Beard put in a busy shift. Of course, a win is a big plus for any side but it was a laborious victory that flattered the hosts.
Tactical and selection headaches, add to frustration
Dan Biggar had a game to forget. He has plenty of credit in the bank but are Wales’ attacking options a bit one-dimensional? They’re still kicking away too much possession, Biggar and Tomos Williams were again guilty of this. Biggar has matured at Northampton but, noticing how he was chuntering away at the ref, something most thought that he seemed to have eradicated from his game in recent years.
Healthy, constructive dialogue is required, particularly between the captain and referee. This seemed more driven by frustration.
The cross-field kick is a very useful tactic when used appropriately and sparingly. Wales are in danger of overusing this ploy and if it doesn’t come off, they cough up possession. This is the case with the kick-and-chase out wide too. We saw Louis Rees-Zammit’s searing pace again so on the one hand, it makes sense to utilize what weapons Wales have. The issue is, that the opposition now expects it.
This current Welsh team needs to get their passing game and support lines back up to where it can be. That way there is some attacking variation that will keep opponents guessing.
Looking ahead to Wales’ final game of the Autumn Series
With the final game of the Autumn Series on the horizon, are we any further along in terms of knowing Wales’ best fifteen? And how they are going to play?
Does Wayne Pivac have more questions than answers with regard to tactics and selection? The caveats that the optimistic fans amongst us have used so far are, “We’re trying out new combinations ahead of next year’s Six Nations,” or, “We’re limited in who we can pick due to player unavailability or injury.”
While there is some truth in both those assertions. It reveals that the squad depth Wales possesses is in danger of being weaker than our European rivals.
There is a bruised Australia to come in Round Four. In their previous games, they have lost to England and Scotland. Is that the side Wales will encounter? Or will it be September’s incarnation who beat the Springboks on consecutive weekends?
Against Australia, alternative Welsh backline selection talking points
Below are two alternative backlines that Wales could adopt in an attempt to create some solidity, variation, and attacking threat. Admittedly, it’s untried and out of leftfield but, Wales seems to still be in a period of experimentation and transition anyway.
Reasons for any variation used already is clear for all to see. Once this Autumn Series is over there will be a 2022 Six Nations, then next year’s Autumn Series, then the 2023 Six Nations championship. June test matches will be aimed for and ultimately followed by the one trophy everyone wants to raise……. the William Webb Ellis Cup in France.
15. L. Williams 14. A. Cuthbert 13. J. Davies 12. D. Biggar 11. J. Adams 10. G. Anscombe 9. T. Williams
15. L. Williams 14. J. Holmes 13. J. Davies 12. W. Halaholo 11. J. Adams 10. G. Anscombe 9. T. Williams.
The main talking points would be: playing Biggar out of position, the shock omission of Rees-Zammit and Nick Tompkins -neither of whom have done anything particularly wrong. There is also the question mark over whether Gareth Anscombe is fully fit.
Dealing with each in turn, the choice of Biggar at centre could create a ten/twelve axis, the likes of which has been tried successfully by other international teams. Biggar’s strong kick and chase game could be used in midfield. He could also try developing new kicks that could exploit the recently brought in 50-22 rule and make attacking gains for Wales.
He is level-headed as well as combative and because of his reliability off the tee, he’s been nigh on undroppable for many years now. There may be doubts over whether he could repeatedly defend the channel at centre. He would also have to carry across the gain line, making inroads into the opposition’s defence. Why not try it? Even for a maximum of two or three games only?
Pivac was willing to play George North out of position at centre earlier this year. Josh Adams would have also taken on the unfamiliar centre role; had he not pulled up with an injury minutes prior to the clash with Fiji on Saturday. It shows his ability to explore, and many fans would see a win primary, along with trying something that gets a result.
Over expectation on Louis Rees-Zamitt’s young shoulders
On to Rees-Zammit.
It has the feeling of too much expectation being placed on him too soon. We are all hoping he can win games single-handedly. It’s a little unfair seeing as it is off the back of a good Six Nations and some great showings for Gloucester last season. His pace is electric but some positional, handling and defensive issues need to be ironed out and strengthened for him to succeed at the very top of international rugby.
With Tompkins, you get a great all-around player. He rarely performs badly but, what he hasn’t shown enough of yet (in a Welsh shirt), is how to grab a game by the scruff of the neck and help determine its outcome. He did put Williams through for a try in the game against Fiji. However, at that point, the result was already decided. Time to give Halaholo, or Biggar a chance, even if it’s limited to the game against Australia and the first two games of the Six Nations.
Finally, it’s a gamble to go with Anscombe who may not yet be fully match-fit (Adams may also not be ready for Australia). If Anscombe is not ready, then another option would be to put a different ten in the axis with Biggar at twelve (or another centre in the squad, if you consider Biggar to be a tactical step in the wrong direction). Whether that’s Rhys Priestland, Callum Sheedy, Rhys Patchell, Jarrod Evans or Sam Davies is a debate for another day.
Is it time for Wayne Pivac and Stephen Jones; the Welsh attack coach, to rip up the rule book? Next up is Australia, and in reality – only time will tell.
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