I’m of the opinion that Friday’s match against Tonga isn’t going to tell us too much about the state of Welsh rugby. Okay, so it might tell us how good some of these youngsters could be in the future, but apart from that, I’m basically seeing it as an exercise in which we try to prevent our players getting injured whilst still winning the game.
However, one of the things I’m most excited about seeing is Ryan Jones leading the team out as captain of the Wales side once again. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not sore that Ryan is no longer captain – realistically it would be very hard to shoehorn him into a first-choice Welsh side; let alone make him captain. But nevertheless, I’m delighted to see him regain the captaincy at least for this one match and for one simple reason: Ryan is a phenomenally good captain.
I’ll go a stage further: Ryan is such a good captain, that Sam Warburton really should be paying more attention to how Ryan leads the side. If Sam wants to improve his captaincy skills, then I suggest he pays very close attention to the way that Ryan conducts himself on Friday, as in my opinion, Ryan possesses a lot of the captaincy skills that – so far at least – Warbs has lacked.
A lot of these captaincy skills revolve around how the skipper interacts with the referee. Although I believe that Warburton is an inspirational leader, if I had to criticise him for one thing, it would be the fact that he is far too quiet when it comes to speaking to the referee. In modern rugby, it is absolutely crucial that a captain can develop a good rapport with the referees, so that they can approach them about areas of the game that are concerns.
When he was full-time captain of Wales, Ryan was the absolute master at being chummy with the referee, having a laugh and a joke with him and developing that bond that meant that he was able to point out issues as and when they occurred.
In contrast, I’ve noticed that Sam is a lot more serious on the field than Ryan. That’s not to say that Ryan doesn’t take his job seriously; but rather that he has the ability to be jovial whilst still getting the job done. Ryan’s warmth and joviality on the field contrasts sharply with Warburton’s stony silence, and it seems unlikely that the latter will benefit Wales in the long run.
A bigger issue is that Sam’s silence also extends to pointing out things to the referee. When Ryan captained the side, having laid the foundations with the referee, he was extremely adept at pointing out where he believed the opposition were infringing or suggesting areas that the referee might want to pay particular attention to. As far as I can tell, Sam hardly ever does that, and it is often to our detriment.
For example, against South Africa, Allain Rolland continually allowed the Springboks to hold the tackled player once they had both hit the ground, preventing the Welsh player from releasing the ball and giving the advantage to South Africa. A word to Rolland – and perhaps more crucially in earshot of the referee mic – would have meant that if the infringement continued to occur, the official would have had to take action, or explain to the IRB why he repeatedly allowed an infringement to go unpunished. By drawing the viewer’s attention to it, Warburton would have been able to ensure that it was dealt with. But he kept silent. I’m not saying Wales would have won the game if Warburton had been more vocal, but I believe they would have had more chance.
This same wordless behaviour from Warburton was seen in the first Lions test in the summer. Despite the fact that Brian O’Driscoll was unfairly pinged twice at the breakdown by Chris Pollock, Warburton meekly accepted the punishment. A word to Pollock would at least have made the Kiwi reconsider his stance and may have made a difference.
It may well be that Warburton stays silent out of a respect for the official, and whilst there’s a lot to be said for that, I think an examination of the way that Ryan Jones conducts himself indicates that you can have respect for the referee whilst making your point at the same time. Richie McCaw is perhaps one of the most illegal players currently in the game (sorry All Black fans), but his tremendous rapport with referees no doubt helps him get a lot of 50/50 calls.
So that’s my two cents for today – I’d love Warburton to pay close attention to how Ryan leads the team on Friday, and use it moving forward to improve his captaincy skills and help gain Wales the advantage.