The fly-half position has been long discussed during recent times in Welsh rugby.

In fact, since Warren Gatland has been in control of the team, the Welsh rugby public have rarely been settled on who should take reins in the 10 jersey. Debate stretches all the way back to Gatland’s first World Cup cycle. Who can forget the James Hook and Stephen Jones discussion?

Dan Biggar

Since the end of the 2014 Six Nations Championship, Dan Biggar has been the incumbent. Biggar is an absolutely excellent player with some outstanding strengths in his game. His kick-chase game is world class. His goal kicking during the 2015 Rugby World Cup was monumental (kicking 19 out of 21 kicks).

But almost every player will have a weakness of some form. For Biggar, the perceived weakness identified by his critics is his ability to stand flat in attack. It is a noted element of the way he plays that he stands deeper in attack than the likes of Rhys Priestland.

Dan Biggar in action during the last Six Nations
Try scoring analysis

Wales managed to score seven tries in the three Tier One games they played this autumn. All in all, this is not a bad return. However, five of these tries were scored from first phase ball, whilst one of the others was scored in the 2nd phase.

I did some further digging and looked at every try Wales has scored against Tier One opposition (Italy excluded) since the last World Cup. This encompasses 17 matches, with Dan Biggar starting all of them. During this period, 30 tries were scored. Of these 30, 15 of them were scored off first phase possession. But more worryingly, only 3 were scored after 5 phases or more.

Rhys Priestland was on the field for all three of those tries.

Rhys Priestland

I then had a look at Priestland’s record with Wales. His international career kicked off with a hiss and roar, leading Wales to the 2011 Rugby World Cup semi-final. This achievement was quickly followed by a Grand Slam in the 2012 Six Nations. His form then faded with a loss of confidence in late 2012 and he never managed to reach his original lofty heights.

During the period from the start of the 2011 Rugby World Cup Warm-Ups to the final 2012 Six Nations match, Priestland played 10 matches against Tier One opposition.

Wales scored 18 tries during this time with 9 of them being scored after 5 phases or more. It is obvious watching Wales play during this period that they were more comfortable in phase play and less reliant on tries being scored off set plays.

Wales are moving away from their “Warrenball” game plan and, to truly challenge the top tier, they need to score more tries from phase play.

Rhys Priestland following the 2012 Grand Slam
By National Assembly for Wales from Wales, via Wikimedia Commons

Can Dan Biggar change his game for this? Can Priestland be consistent at this level? Or does Gatland go left-field and start a new era with a new player? A player such as Rhys Patchell or Sam Davies perhaps. Let us know what your thoughts are.

Author: Tom Paton

I am a Welsh born Australian raised rugby nut who is currently residing in Christchurch, New Zealand. When I’m not playing or watching our great game, I am working as a Civil Engineer or travelling the globe, trying tick off my extensive sporting bucket list.


  1. Great article mate. Great stats comparing number of phases taken to score with each 10. Beneath those two it’s a bit of a coin toss between Sam Davies, Rhys Patchell and Gareth Anscombe.

    I think we need to give Biggar a bit more time in the new two play maker set up, I still think he’s got the jersey safely under lock and key. But, while we’re doing this development phase, I think we need to explore our options as much as possible. The scarlets are scoring for fun so why don’t we give Patchell a go, especially down in Argentina in the summer.

  2. Enjoyed the article. After watching the ospreys for many years – Biggar is not the man to get the back line moving. Priestland struggles defensively and Sam Davies is vey hot and cold. I think Patchell deserves a proper chance and would also like to see OWen Williams tried at 10. Wales should have sorted this out 2 years ago as we are running out of time to develop a new style before the World Cup. Gatlands year with the lions will cost Wales dear.

  3. Hi, very good article, the stats very interesting. It seems this argument has been going on in Wales for decades. Gareth Davies/ Malcolm Dacey, Neil Jenkins/ Arwel Thomas, Stephen Jones/ James Hook and now Bigger/ Priestland (there were also those who advocated before he went north that the best option for Wales was to move Jonathan Davies to full back and have Bleddyn Bowen at fly half). I agree with Huw that Wales need to give Bigger time in the new style, it will definitely help with another playmaker at twelve as it it does with England, although there you have the playmaker at ten and the better defensive, kicking option at twelve with Farrell (although Farrell has a great passing game when on the front foot). If the Bigger option does not work I have the feeling that with a decent pack and an injury free run Anscombe may be he best option. He has pace, a great passing game and kicks well from hand; but as his goal kicking is a bit hit and miss Wales would then perhaps need another kicker, which then opens up the other conundrum of Leigh Halfpenny or Liam Williams at full back. Therefore I think it will be Bigger for the world cup.

  4. Thanks Tom, those stats are startling. Dan Biggar is a fine 10 and was unlucky not to get more of a run with the Lions but given the game plan Gatland was trying to use you can see why those stats would not have helped his cause. Hopefully he can adapt to the evolving Welsh attack plan and hold onto the jersey. However Gatland will not be able to keep him there for long if he does not adapt quickly.


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