Time for change in Welsh Rugby

imageAnother brave effort from Wales but ultimately in vain as the double world champions accelerated away and the Test series was lost. With the scores level at 55 minutes the All Blacks posted 26 unanswered points in the next dozen minutes to blow Wales out of the water before a late flourish gave the scoreline more respectability. Notably Beauden Barrett came onto the field earlier than anticipated and attacked the Welsh defensive line which was fatiguing, losing it’s shape and with limited line speed. Wales’ play had been largely positive, attacking wider channels and stretching New Zealand’s defensive line which resulted in a good try for Alun Wyn Jones. Opportunities however became limited as once again lineout accuracy dwindled, particularly when in promising positions on the field.
Parts of the media and TV coverage labelled this mornings match as Groundhog Day because we have seen it all before. The same statements have been a constant throughout the Warren Gatland era, “competitive for (insert number) minutes”, “in need of a reliable lineout”. If Wales are going to develop further then coaching changes have to be made and it needs to be now. The management team has been unchanged for 8 years now and has grown stale with the Wales team stagnating whilst England and Ireland with new voices at the helm have progressed.

Defence – Shaun Edwardsimage

Once again Wales’ defence conceded five tries in a match, granted against some very talented players but that takes the total to 21 tries in only four matches this summer. The intimidating Shaun Edwards can no longer dine out on the fact that eight years ago Wales only leaked two tries in five Six Nations matches. Whatever the defensive system is, it simply isn’t working. On numerous occasions during the Chiefs debacle earlier this week players were easily stepped inside as they drifted too far and the inside defenders were absent. Attempts at an aggressive, pressurising blitz defence is proving impossible for players to maintain, particularly against a team as consistently intense as the All Blacks as fitness too comes into question.

Forwards – Robin McBryde

For as long as I can remember the lineout has been an Achilles heel for Wales at international level. Without the ball, teams simply cannot attack the opposition. All too frequently Wales get attacking lineouts in the opponents 22 but cannot be clinical. This inability to retain possession cost Wales dear with tries coming from lost lineouts this morning and against the Chiefs on Tuesday. Luke Charteris with his height is a perfect target but to only throw to him would be easily predicted. The coach responsible for this area has to bare the brunt of criticism because his players are simply failing to execute, especially when it matters.

imageBacks/Attack – Rob Howley

Wales’ attacking game has shown signs of developing during this summer campaign, with the shackles finally taken off and talented players reacting to what is in front of them. Rob Evans’ early try against England was a positive indication that the hard running around the corner style can be effective but it didn’t last. Taking on the All Blacks, Wales attacked wider channels and refreshingly ran at holes instead of at players in the bludgeoning ‘Warrenball’ style. Liam Williams has stood out in the first two tests because of his ability to cut through a defensive line by doing exactly that; running at the gaps, not at the men. Gwyn Jones referenced the dogged use of the phrase “earning the right to go wide” which, as New Zealand proved, is a nonsense. They attack you from anywhere and everywhere, from first phase and from repeated phase play. Howley also still has yet to be held accountable for Wales’ failure to score tries in the World Cup against 13 Australians when it really mattered, which highlights another major skill issue, the inability to convert overlap chances. When Wales do make breaks and have numbers out wide their skills are so poor that all too frequently a miss-pass is thrown, undoing all the good work inside and the opportunity is lost.

Warren Gatland

The man ultimately responsible for all three areas of concern outlined above is the Head Honcho, Warren Gatland. For all the positives that the New Zealander has delivered, Wales have not won the Six Nations championship since 2013 and have an embarrassing record against the All Blacks, Wallabies and Springboks. The decision not to select another specialist openside flanker in the squad embarrassed Gatland when makeshift 7 Dan Lydiate got injured and Elis Jenkins having to be parachuted in but captain Sam Warburton still had to start against the Chiefs despite only recently returning from a shoulder injury of his own. The fitness of the squad which once proclaimed the benefits of cryogenic training regimes looked inadequate against New Zealand as the All Blacks ran in tries during the closing stages of the First Test. However his tired excuses bemoaning the intensity of the Pro 12 were ridiculed by Ireland as they secured a famous win in South Africa, something Gatland’s Wales also failed to achieve.

The humiliating defeat against the Chiefs earlier this week brought doubts on Warren Gatland’s suitability to take control of another Lions Tour but questions surely have to be asked about his role continuing with Wales until the 2019 Rugby World Cup let alone with the Lions.

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