RWC 2011: Wales in record win, but fail to impress?

Wales served up yet another frustrating performance, yet managed to establish a number of records in dispatching a wearying Namibian team. What Gatland will make of his team’s efforts will be very difficult to gauge, after all, it is not every day you dispatch a team by some eighty points and record twelve tries in the process. Indeed, South Africa managed almost the exact same score line and were generally applauded for their efforts, so why is there margin for grumbles for the Wales camp today?

Simply, and without wanting to indulge in clichés, Wales offered a game of two halves. The first was uncertain, rushed, lacking in polish, a disjointed affair that helped to make Namibia look a much better team than they were on the day. The second half, an enjoyable romp, as first team players arrived on the scene and stretched their legs against a shattered Namibian team who had taken more tackles than they will face again in their next three games combined.

With the numbers of changes made to the starting line up, Wales might have been forgiven for the odd lapse in concentration, the odd ball not reaching its man, but this was not at the heart of Wales’ early struggles. Indeed, there were no early struggles as Wales played a fast game, forcing Namibia into mistakes which returned three convincing early scores. Yet with those early breakthroughs, the Welsh mentality turned to one of complacency. ‘If we take it up the middle, we’ll probably score’. The mental side of Wales’ game went missing, and with it went the scoring opportunities.

Come the second half, and what one hopes was a stern dressing down in the changing rooms, Wales restarted the game with for more direction and urgency, and it did not take long for the Namibian defence to wilt. Some sixty second half points is an achievement in its own right, and Wales will take heart that, as other tier 1 nations have slowed their scoring towards the end of matches, the Welsh fitness came through again, to leave the Namibian try line chequered with divots from try scorer after try scorer.  

In the end, it was largely the score line that everyone in Wales wanted, even if the scoring had to come predominantly in one half of the game. In terms of performances, well, players like Scott Williams will have done their reputation no harm at all with the running in of three tries, but others failed to set the world alight. The front row failed to cause the damage that would have been expected from the scrum in the first half, Charteris was notable through his absence in the lineout, regardless of how tall the Namibian second row might have been, while the backline, as a creative unit, simply didn’t have the spark required to breakdown the Namibians  from first phase play. Now, with players such as Stephen Jones, Tavis Knoyle and Lee Bryne, we might argue that this was their first game of the tournament and rustiness might be expected, on the other hand, this was their best chance to shine before final selection against Fiji. On the evidence of the first half at least, few players have put their hand up for selection next week (Scott Williams aside). During the second half, figures like Gethin Jenkins came into their own, and the front row replacements, technically Wales’ third choice front row, exploded with energy and rampaged across the field. George North and Lloyd Williams coming off of the bench excelled as well, and in the case of Williams, may well have done enough to become another ‘on paper’ third choice player, to find himself on the bench next week as well.

Perhaps it was the changes made that caused the first half to stutter, perhaps it was the simple reality that, try as they might, players like Aled Brew and Lloyd Burns just are not up to the test of international rugby, whatever the case might be, and however enjoyable the second half turned out to be, apart from enforced changes, it seems unlikely that the team who faced South Africa and Samoa, will be losing much sleep over their positions in the starting line up for Fiji.

Star Turns: Scott Williams and George North gave exhibitions in attacking and finishing.

Damp squibs: Aled Brew’s handling let him down, Lloyd Burns seemed off the pace against Namibia even, while Andy Powell continues to make poor decisions and throw passes wherever his sprit takes – which more often than not is not towards Welsh hands.

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    • Mark
    • September 26th, 2011

    Thoughtful post – thanks.
    Pre-reply a rapid c.v. : I played junior level at WF while awestruck by the beautiful play of ’70’s Welsh sides – amateur , adventurous, exhilarating and always a joy to behold.
    Then rugby league stripped us of a generation, leading to a long period of occasional delights wallowing in the frustration of the nearly-men. Seemed like those halcyon days would never return as flashes of brilliance were dogged by the sense of always playing catch-up with the increasingly tactical and physical nature of the modern game as it ran into professionalism . One step forward…………….
    And so to the 12 try rout of “a minnow”.
    To me this is a massive turnaround for Welsh rugby union in taking a leaf from the AB’s : if you have an edge then exploit it to the full and mercilessly punish any weakness on the scoreboard. The fact that this required a half-time ‘hairdryer’ might be a concern ; the fact that they responded quite wonderfully gives great hope for the rest of this WC and illuminates WG’s comment that ” even recently Wales would have lost the Samoa game”.
    Yes , Fiji are still a potential banana-skin and composure is not quite second nature , ( if it were then SA were skinned & Samoa disposed of more readily ), but there is a level of fitness, concentration & awareness in this squad rarely seen . Combine that with moments of natural skill & invention native to the red shirt and there is a danger that the Welsh mentality is changing from frisky and frail to functional , from wistful to winning. We’ve seen this spasmodically over the decades, now there are four cup finals in which to nail what we’ve all dreamed of : 80 consistent minutes of wonderful Welsh wizardry.
    It’s time to stop playing catch-up and lead the field ; to ditch insecurity & nervy errors & boss the game.
    This squad is capable of turning the world of Rugby Union on its head and making my heroes of yesteryear proud and , more importantly, capable of eclipsing anything that they did , putting the ’70’s into sepia for our rugby nation.
    Oh, yes, team selection : I’m with Warren Gatland 100% with the possible exception of Gethin Jenkins at fly-half.

    • Good to see some positive thinking there Mark, and yes, I would certainly agree that, in out starting lineup at least, we have the players at our disposal to really do something special (though I maintain that I think the true quality of this squad will only really be seen at the next world cup). We do need more of what was on display against South Africa though. Even in the second half against Namibia, we were still well short of the insenity displayed in that first game. It is something we will need to find for the quarter finals. I don’t want to go jinxing anything but we should be there against Ireland (probably). Play the right game, keep it tight and suffocate Fiji in the forwards, and they should crumble. And that being said, if we cannot dispatch a tired Fiji team, that looks old in the backs and weak in the pack, then we simply don’t deserve to be in the knockout stages (which we would probably still reach even with a defeat).

    • Mark
    • September 28th, 2011

    Wouldn’t disagree and I still have jitters about Fiji – if a win is required .
    I’m sure that the youth on display have a great future for us to look forward to but they also seem to have a more solid mentality & an ability to follow a game plan more intelligently than previous incarnations ( compare the skip with A.Powell – same passion, far more nous & control).
    What I feel we have is options & a squad – time will tell whether the likes of Scott Williams can give impact at the top level.
    I’m looking at an Oz side done by one tactical Irish trick ( wrap tackle), SA proven beatable ( they don’t like it up ’em), very dodgy England outfit and unpredictable France. Clearly AB’s have it to lose but they’ve blown it often enough to raise doubts.
    The boys & WG have plenty to see off an ageing Ireland so I am ( foolishly?) curious as to semi-final opponents.
    Yes , there is an unaccustomed level of optimism for Wales but I honestly do not see too much to fear.
    And – if it all goes tits up as usual – then at least we’re used to that.
    Enjoy , my friend , enjoy.

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