RWC 2011: Week 1.5. Wales lead home nations, with nothing to show for it.
With Georgia doing their best to spook the life out of Scottish fans, all the nations competing in this year’s rugby world cup have now entered the fray and tasted a bit of the action. With the first week and a bit out of the way, all of the home nations are in a position to reflect on their current progress, and most spectators will probably settle for the fact that, by some distance, Wales have looked the best of the bunch. In reality Wales, in their narrow defeat to the Springboks, looked head and shoulders over the other offerings of the northern hemisphere, who have so far either disappointed or embarrassed in their on-field efforts. Whatever happens against Samoa on the weekend, there must be a sense in the Welsh camp that runs a little along the lines of ‘why oh why could we not get one of the other groups?!’
Punishment for poor performances in previous years have left Wales in their unenviable group, yet on current showing, Wales would probably be the only home nation to stand a chance of getting out of it, certainly of having a chance of winning the pool. As Scotland labour past another minnow, as England brush off a shambolic display over Argentina, and as Ireland kneel to the gods and offer thanks for being granted the lightest pool in world cup memory at a time when they have no sense of a world class performance in them, Wales and Welsh fans must be gripped by pangs of pain, knowing full well that they could easily exit the pool stages of this tournament as being the best European nation to compete.
Still, it’s early days, and Wales could yet exit the tournament as having been the worst of the European offerings. For that to happen, Wales would need to buckle under some serious Samoan heat on the weekend. We must hope that that does not happen. Playing tight and through a pack that has shown a degree of steel missing for several seasons, there is no reason why Wales cannot go through the rest of the pool without defeat. Really, with the attacking capabilities of the Welsh backline, each game should still produce a bonus point, but in order to do so, lessons must be learnt.
Wales let South Africa off in two key areas. As the second half moved on, and the South Africans tired, increasing amount of the ball was kicked. A fine strategy usually, but South Africa were weak and tired in the middle and that is where the ball should have been shoved. Samoa will tire in exactly the same position, but punt the ball away for their backs to counter attack with quick line outs, and Wales will lose. In addition, fail to use the bench, and Wales will lose. Gatland’s confidence in the fitness of the first XV is admirable, but the likes of Powell and Halfpenny would have been deadly in the last twenty minutes against a tired South African defence. The failure to use them was an oversight then, and will be again against Samoa. Do everything that we did to South Africa, plus correcting these two areas, and a Welsh win will come, but it must be done, otherwise Samoa will be too good to simply role over as the opposition has done for the other home nations, those other lucky lucky home nations! (And indeed, that is said with seething jealousy!)