Wales vs New Zealand is a typically torrid affair, and with the media reiterating Wales’s constant misery over the last 60 years throughout the back end of last week, I can’t say optimism was the overriding feeling when I wandered up the central streets of Cardiff to the Principality. We have a New Zealand team, bang in form after a hard fought Rugby
Championship win, with world class players littered across the subs bench… Yeah, they have them there too. We also have a Wales team, quietly confident in their ability to s***house games and orchestrate unpredictable scenario’s… However, that Wales team wasn’t there. Due to the stupidity of the international window and lack of a global calendar, this Wales side looked like a United Rugby Championship side on paper. No Premiership players, a bunch of injuries and Pivac scraping through reserves to pick a coherent side… It felt set up for a bloodbath…
A Game of Two Halves
I hate that saying, but it is oddly poignant in this case. Being in the stands surrounded by die hard Valley’s boys might have clouded my judgement, but were Wales pretty good for the first thirty minutes? With the exception of a horror pass from Anscombe in the opening few minutes, both sides went largely tit-for-tat. The difference, is that New Zealand kept the scoreboard ticking. Jordie Barrett’s boot is a real problem for anyone that faces it, and if you give away a penalty in your half, it’s likely that you’ll be marching back to half way after going down a three pointer. I thought Wales did an excellent job of targeting the breakdown, an area in which New Zealand historically dominate, despite sending small numbers there. We know New Zealand have some great jackalers, and they did cause some problems, but as a counterpoint, Wales would throw two or three into largely unguarded breakdowns, winning ball against the grain. Basham in particular was playing a blinder, winning ball, making breaks and putting in some thumping hits.
What was the difference between the two sides? 10, 12 and 13. New Zealand dominated the midfield from kick off, with William’s being smashed backwards due to being way too static. The Anscombe – Williams channel was often targeted due to the lack of cohesion, with ball carriers throwing themselves between them, and Barrett picking up an easy interception in defence. Leinert-Brown might have seemed quiet on the day, but he locked down that Wales 13 channel, with Davies ineffective at best, absent at worst.
In typical New Zealand fashion, they ramped it up in the dying 20 minutes, racking try after try, despite a late resurgence led by Priestland. Wales didn’t have the fitness, didn’t have the bite and didn’t have an answer for the absolute onslaught brought on by imaginative, awe-inspiring Rugby.
Lineouts, We Think?
Wow oh wow. The lineout for Wales, despite being regional talent-led, was an absolute shambles. I couldn’t tell who was more at fault, Beard (who had a horrendous game by his lofty standards) or Elias (who also didn’t really impress). It had to be one or the other. It wasn’t a case of poor throw ins or jumpers not trying, it was far more simple than that, it was just timing! Why would you keep going to the corner and just to rush the lineout like that? You should have heard the groans that went around the stadium, it was appalling to watch at this level and needs massive improvements!
The Set Piece
New Zealand pretty much always have a consistent set piece. Whether that’s the absolute lineout phenoms Retallick and Whitelock, or whether it’s the tough scrummaging of that world class front row. However, it’s what they do with that quality ball that makes them so effective. Direct, rehearsed yet creative, calculated… I run out of superlatives to describe their attacking structure. The way Jordan and Reece work off the ball, really separates them from others on the international stage. Space is created, because they always have numbers. It also helps that their offloading is ever-fantastic.
Wales conversely were largely toothless in attack, but it wasn’t helped by having little to nothing in successful set-piece ball. Anscombe and Williams were largely predictable, and unfortunately they were just too slow in distribution. Johnny McNicholl looked great, and created a lot of exciting passages, but I can’t say anyone in that Welsh backline really created anything. Priestland looked good when he came on, and had a barnstorming first ten minutes. Wales’s only try via the kick chase of Johnny Williams did show a glimmer of flair, but it was largely to no avail.
Beauden Barrett, Will Jordan, Ardie Savea, Taine Basham, Anton Leinert-Brown
Gareth Anscombe, Adam Beard, Ryan Elias, Owen Lane
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