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?
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.
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.
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.
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.