As he takes the Welsh national side to his third campaign, what were Wales Six Nations tactics in 2021 and is there a chance of a change by Wayne Pivac 12 months later?
Ever since Warren Gatland left the Wales job on the first of November 2019, there has always been a mixed response regarding his replacement Wayne Pivac.
His first game in charge was at the end of November against Gatland as the former Wales coach was in charge of the Barbarians – Pivac’s Wales picked up a 43-33 win in what was a fresh dawn for Welsh rugby.
Wales Six Nations tactics
Many stated that Pivac’s style of play will be so much better than Warren ball – the term that was used to describe Gatland’s way of playing with Wales despite the fact that Gatland himself said he hated that term.
So, with so much promise around 2020 with a new coach at the helm it was set to be a good year.
However, there were only three wins for Wales in 2020, two over Italy and one win against Georgia with Pivac failing to get his game plan across despite blooding many new caps in the red shirt.
Pivac then turned to experience for 2021 and it paid off massively as they won the Six Nations title, Although the summer series and autumn series was a little bit underwhelming without many top stars.
So, what is Pivac ball and why does he need his top players to be involved to be successful?
Under Pivac, Wales tend to play a 1-3-2-2 attacking structure within the forwards, one forward on the blindside wing, a pod of three and a pod of two in midfield then a second pod of two on the openside wing.
The first time we saw the 1-3-2-2 structure in any form was in the Rugby World Cup where Jamie Joseph utilised his Japan squad as they couldn’t find a way to bully packs due to the size of their forwards.
Pivac likes to change where his attack is coming from so you often see Wales switch to change where the attacking is coming from to attempt to trick defenders. Although Wales will sometimes have different variations of the 1-3-2-2 system, especially the way they managed to beat England in the 2021 Six Nations.
A look back at the Louis Rees-Zammit try which involved that non-knock-on decision, but the build-up from Wales is very smart.
Dan Biggar receives the ball near the 15 meter line on England’s ten meter line and there’s a change to the 1-3-2-2 structure as centre Johnathan Davies moves into the pod of three with Wyn Jones and Josh Navidi.
The forward on the blindside wing – Alun Wyn Jones, moves to the inside of Biggar to become an option but there are three English forwards in front of him. English lock Johnny Hill flies out of the defensive line on his own which makes Biggar’s options easier as a flat pass to Owens means he can smash into Kyle Sinckler.
Quick ball provided by Keiran Hardy means Biggar gives a second flat pass in as many phases as George Ford makes a defensive error by targeting prop Wyn Jones, this means Adam Beard fixes George Ford and number 8 Toby Faletau makes some meters down the wing.
Wales then try to break the English defence back on the open side as Biggar looks for George North who carries into the English defence before Hardy switched back to the blindside as Davies is there with Tipuric and Faletau.
Then they attempt a set move but England’s line speed in defence was solid, but North acts as the fly-half and a sudden drift of position from Josh Adams catches Henry Slade and Owen Farrell off guard and puts in a neat grubber before that slightly controversial referee call.
Ever since the departure of Shaun Edwards, many wondered how would a Pivac side would defend against some of the best sides in the world. It hasn’t been the blitz defence that everyone became so used to under Edwards and you can’t call Wales’ defence a drift defence either.
Wales like to use a fishnet defence, meaning instead of defending the man, Wales tend to defend the space to stop attacking threats.
A key element to their defence is the fact they want to disrupt opposition ball in the tackle area or holding them up to cause a rolling maul to be formed before winning a turnover, this could be the reason why Owen Watkin has been recalled to the Welsh squad ahead of the 2022 Six Nations, as his upper body strength is very good and he always likes to make a rip in the tackle.
Will it change?
With Pivac set to start the defence of his title out in Dublin, it will be interesting to see Wales Six Nations tactics they have worked on in their first two weeks of camp.
Will they stick to the system being used in 2021 or will there be a change of style in attack or defence? The obvious answer would be just to watch the Ireland game, but with the Rugby World Cup only being 18 months away there’s plenty of time to have a change of system.
Although, the most worrying issue for Pivac ahead of the Six Nations will be the set-piece, especially in the line outs as it continued to struggle during the autumn.
It is going to be a gripping tournament ahead for the defending champions.
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