Our embarrassing loss to Ireland has been coming for quite a while, and it’s time that Gatland wakes up and smells the coffee.
While most of us didn’t expect a loss of this magnitude against Ireland, we can’t pretend that it’s massively unpredictable. We have been playing the same way for too long, and Joe Schmidt came up with the perfect way to counteract our gameplan. To quote a detractor on the last article, we were out-thought, outplayed and outmuscled on Saturday and we got nothing less than we deserved.
The first thing we must do is congratulate Ireland. They played a pretty much flawless game of rugby, and their tactics were spot on. There was some debate on the Facebook page about the negativity of their play and the lack of expansive rugby on offer at the Aviva, but having thought long and hard about it, I have to admit that I don’t have a problem with the way that Ireland played.
The Irish gameplan was boring of course; no one in their right mind would contest that. Driving mauls, kicking to the corners and picking and driving are three of the least attractive elements of the game of rugby union. However, I believe Ireland did exactly the right thing and I have absolutely no issue with the way they played the game. The reason for this is that we are (for another few weeks at least) the champions. Not only that, but we are the two-time champions. Over the last couple of years we have been far and away the best side in Europe. That means that we’re (usually) difficult to beat, and therefore you cannot blame a side for playing in a way that they know gives them the best chance of winning the game against a side regarded as better than them.
It’s like when an inferior footballing side goes and plays against a big side like Chelsea or Man City and plays a long ball game. It might not be great to watch, but it gives them the best chance of winning. The onus is firmly on the big team to be able to counteract the other team’s gameplan.
That’s how I see our game against Ireland. If we’re supposed to be the best team in Europe, we should be able to alter our tactics sufficiently to beat a team that is (or at least has been) inferior to us. We failed to do so, and we only have ourselves to blame for that. Well done Ireland.
(For what it’s worth, I would say that Ireland’s approach is more acceptable when one considers that it was Joe Schmidt who came up with the plan. The chances of Ireland playing like this every week under the Leinster coach are very slim indeed, and indicate very clearly that this was a ‘horses for courses’ gameplan designed with toppling the champions as the aim.)
Why did it go so wrong?
Whilst Ireland played the perfect gameplan, our players cannot be absolved of blame. The front five (Coombs aside) were absolutely dire and question marks should be placed over all of their heads for the France game; if only to try to motivate them to improve their game.
Lydiate and Warburton also played extremely poorly; two players who have been living off their reputations for far too long. Lydiate is now a penalty machine whilst I can’t remember the last time I saw Sam make a turnover.
The pack lost us the game with their inability to front up and their propensity for giving away stupid penalties. There has been quite a lot of talk about the Welsh backs, but when your forwards simply fail to show up, there’s not much you can do as a back.
Welsh rugby always loves a scapegoat, but what has alarmed me is that many have blamed Rhys Priestland for the loss. If you’re one of those people, take a deep breath and think it through once more. Priestland didn’t have a great game, but to foist the blame onto him after that display of cowardice from our forwards is shortsighted and embarrassing.
Not only has the Grand Slam gone, but for me, the Championship has too. We simply didn’t put enough points on Italy and conceded too many points against Ireland for us to have a shot of winning the title again. For that reason, I honestly believe that wholesale changes are needed.
We saw on Saturday that Wales are only capable of playing in one way, and Joe Schmidt has just showcased the perfect antidote to the gameplan known as Warrenball. In truth, the effectiveness of this gameplan has been waning for some time. The fantastic performance against England last year somewhat papered over the fact that we were actually relatively poor in the tournament, whilst our autumn performances against South Africa and Australia indicated that we are no closer to toppling the southern hemisphere giants.
So, in my view, a fresh approach is needed. Gatland must now think about reintegrating or blooding more footballing players who can add unpredictability to a team that is currently Predictable with a capital ‘P’.
With the tournament gone, we need to focus on building for the future and in particular next year’s World Cup. Quite simply, we will not win the World Cup with these players playing this gameplan. With only one more Six Nations before the World Cup starts, I would use the next three games as an opportunity to experiment. I would bring in players who have not previously had a chance or have been overlooked in recent times. We might lose, but really, with the Championship gone, who cares? We had three years with no trophy from 2009-2011, but this helped us prepare for the World Cup and eventually culminated in the back-to-back Six Nations triumphs.
Who needs to be dropped?
Some players need to be dropped because they are currently not good enough. Other players need to be dropped because they are unlikely to ever be good enough again. These are the players I would drop for the France game:
– Gethin Jenkins – wonderful servant, but his time has been and gone. Was totally ineffective at the breakdown and that was the fundamental reason he was picked
– Adam Jones – hasn’t adapted to the new scrum laws and offers nothing else. He will be 33 by the end of the tournament and is unlikely to massively improve again.
– Dan Lydiate – looks a shadow of his former self. Took the money on offer in France without considering the impact it would have on his game.
– Sam Warburton – currently getting picked on reputation alone. If reports are to be believed Sam is going to be on £330k a year funded by the WRU. An astounding decision given his iffy form and fitness over the last two years.
– Mike Phillips – this one is hard because there is no one else, but Mike looks to be past it now. He is far too slow and ponderous in the tackle area and it stops us getting our backs involved.
– Rhys Priestland – like I said, I don’t think he had a particularly bad game against Ireland, but as I will reveal in a minute, the side that I’d pick against France is radically different and Priestland would be less effective in it than the alternatives.
– Leigh Halfpenny – I know this is sacrilege, but right now Halfpenny’s performances at fullback are not justifying his selection. He is in purely on his goalkicking, and I think we need more from fullback.
Who should play against France?
My view is that Wales are far too predictable. They rely far too much on muscle and pure gainline advantage, but in the Gatland era, skill has been slowly eradicated from the side. Shane Williams was the one creative constant until he retired, and I think in truth, we haven’t replaced him. There are those who no doubt feel that we are a much better side than we were when Shane was playing, but the fact remains is that the last time we beat a southern hemisphere side, Shane was the catalyst for that win.
If we want to be genuine World Cup contenders we need more than Warrenball, and therefore I’d start blooding players who could make a difference to the creativity of the side. With that in mind, this would be my 23 for the France game in two week’s time:
1.Ryan Bevington 2. Richard Hibbard 3. Samson Lee 4. Jake Ball 5. Alun-Wyn Jones 6. Andrew Coombs 7. Justin Tipuric 8. Taulupe Faletau
9. Richie Rees 10. Dan Biggar 11. George North 12. James Hook 13. Jamie Roberts 14. Alex Cuthbert 15. Lee Byrne
16. Kristian Dacey 17. Rhodri Jones 18. Adam Jones 19. Lloyd Peers 20. Sam Lewis 21. Lloyd Williams 22. Matthew Morgan 23. Jordan Williams
This side would be a risk, but to me, it’s a shot to nothing. We won’t retain the Championship, so it makes more sense to use the rest of it to blood players who could actually give us a chance of being a force at the World Cup as opposed to an also-ran.
What do you guys think? Who would you pick against France?