RWC2011 Wales and the Remaining Questions.
Wales brought their pre world cup fixture list to a close in Cardiff yesterday with a comfortable victory over a clearly underprepared Argentina. It must be stressed that during an abysmal first half, Wales could count themselves very lucky to not have found themselves on the wrong end of a 15 points deficit, had the Argentineans not forgotten to pack their kicking radar. As it was, a dire first 30 minutes, characterised by dropped balls, high passes and poorly placed kicks, was torn open by the Welsh attack with only moments remaining of the first half. Inspired by an excellent Tavis Knoyle, the speed of the ball around the breakdown opened up the Argentine defence and allowed two well taken scoring opportunities. Wales, as their current form dictates, had two chances, and scored from them, ultimately proving the difference between the opponents, largely mirroring the performances against England in this respect. The second half brought more intent from both teams, though errors would ultimately dominate. As the game reached an odd conclusion, with Hook taking it upon himself to make safe a two score lead with no time remaining, Wales will clearly leave the field as the more contended team. Argentina will be better for the experience, but one wonders whether this single game warm up will be enough to prepare them for a frustrating, but ultimately better prepared England team.
Yet questions remain for Wales, and while a win could be enjoyed in the evening, certain players continue to have question marks hovering over them going into Monday’s world cup squad selection. Going through some of the more prominent names below, it will be of interest, and concern, if certain players make the grade.
Lee Byrne: Who knows what has happened to Byrne, the man is a mere shadow of his former self. Pulled in the second half, and outperformed by Halfpenny at the back, Byrne showed little ability going forward, with erratic kicks coupled with terrible decision making. Wales might be light on designated fullbacks, but the style of the Welsh play is such, that three covering wings have proven as effective in both attack and defence over the last three games. One imagine Byrne will be handed a plane ticket, but only as a man who can only wear the number 15 on his back, it certainly won’t be on form, and one hopes that if he does travel, it will only be as an emergency squad player.
Richard Hibbard: Another player who should find himself cast aside. Everyone in Wales knows that Hibbard is overweight and an underperformer. Single handed, he managed to destroy month’s worth of work at the lineout, and no one was surprised. Having come into the world cup squad so late, one imagines that he will now travel, but Welsh fans must pray that Huw Bennett remains fit, because a reliance on Hibbard in any game bar Namibia, would prove a disaster. Should not travel, for want of others in his position, sadly, probably will.
Andy Powell: The enigma goes on. My heart sank as he bullocked his way towards the try line, thinking that one score has probably sent him to New Zealand. At the very least, he should be considered only 3rd choice behind Faletau and Ryan Jones. Powell’s one dimensional play will leave him exposed against South Africa, and vulnerable to the power of Fiji and Samoa. While he did not let anyone down yesterday, his handling in advantage play situations was poor. A back up and nothing more (yet another player who will probably earn his caps against Namibia should he travel).
Mike Phillips: One certain to travel, but one who should not take his starting position for granted, Phillips was outplayed by two youngsters against Argentina. Both Knoyle and Williams looked sharp and hungry, and most important of all, quick. Phillips may have improved over the two England games, but he still looks a step behind the young pretenders in terms of speed and decision making.
James Hook: The final figure to dwell on for today, Hook will obviously travel to New Zealand, but as 10,12 or 15 should be an unresolved issue. Given his chance to deliver a full 80 minutes in the role, Hook can only be seen to have disappointed. The sense of control and authority required from an outside half was clearly lacking from Hook, and it was not for want of good ball. The French referee’s insistence to dissolve the scrum as a contest meant there was plenty of quick ball for Hook, but often the decision making and execution was poor. On form, Priestland stands out as the clear first choice 10 for Wales, while Hook should start at fullback (in place of the dreadful Byrne). There is no doubt that Hook can deliver, but on the strength of what we have seen, he does not look comfortable with the responsibilities of 10, and unless Priestland gives any reason to doubt (which so far he has not), the coaching staff would be hard pressed to overlook him in that pivotal spot.