First and foremost, you’ll have to forgive me, as this is the most polarising series I’ve ever written. Mainly, because of frustration.
There’s a popular theory about the definition of insanity by Einstein. Even though it was debunked that it was Einstein, in the end, the point was still relevant. Whoever it was said that the definition of Insanity, is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result. Or something of that ilk. This to me, since 2008, had been Wales.
In the 70’s. Wales were beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. Eddie Jones himself remarked at the wonder and skill of players like Barry Johns and Gareth Edwards. Fast thinking, natural instinctive players playing a near total rugby gameplan. Unfortunately, the Wales of today are not the same.
The game since 2007 has moved on. In 2007, the Boks won the World Cup with “Jakeball“. A very physical, abrasive, dominating game, when the ELV’s of the time favoured the defence. And on the back of this favouritism penalties were awarded accordingly. This, since Gatland has been in, has been the ethos his team have sided with. They’ve sided with big heavy runners, defensive colossi, and not to mention a pinpoint kicker to take advantage of the penalties that keep coming.
Even when it became obvious that the game was changing, that the laws were now focused on supporting the attacking team, it didn’t change. The same game plan was focused on.
In 2016 on the tour of New Zealand, Gatland went on to say that their gameplan had changed, when in fact nothing had. He mentioned how people were saying their rugby had evolved and used it as a PR stunt to maintain that Warrenball was attractive. That Warrenball could work against the best teams.
Since Gatland came in Wales have beaten the big SH opposition a grand total of four times. On the flip side, they have done well in the Six Nations. But for me, those results were against teams that weren’t even half as creative as the SH giants. Whilst Wales were the best, and by some distance at times in the NH, the game has moved on. Sadly, it appears that the coaching staff have refused to move with it. And to be reasonably frank, they’ve been left behind.
This goes against my own coaching philosophy more than I can say, and, not unfairly, is a reason this is so polarising for me.
2010 – 2013
Wales during the 2010 to 2013 years, were very good. In fact, they were very, very good. A World Cup semi-final, a Grand Slam and a second Six Nations title to boot.
They were playing the Warrenball template, which at the time, was still reasonably relevant, but didn’t get them results against the big SH opposition. And it wasn’t for a matter of trying. But, and this is a big but, they never stepped back and stated that they needed to change. They drafted in new players and had them play the same system. They defended their system, using prior wins and the Lions 2013 tour as vindication for its effectiveness. The statements were in line with – they don’t need to change, just do it better.
As I mentioned in a prior article, rugby is like an ever-adapting ecosystem. Essentially, Wales were in the Stone Age in 2015/2016 when everyone else was mastering archery and swordcraft. In defending their tenets and players of Warrenball they were not only fighting the opposition, they were fighting the very laws of the game that no longer favoured them.
they were fighting the very laws of the game that no longer favoured them
Now, for those of you who have read my prior articles, this opening may be more hostile you’ve seen me write. This is not because I was in a Cardiff pub wearing my England jersey during the Wales/England game in 2013. I wore it last year, had a great time and was given congratulations on the result. But it’s because of the Gatland/Howley combo; Howley in particular. They need to change and it is frustrating watching them walk in treacle.
I believe that post-Lions tour, they accepted this needs to change, and they are now espousing a new style of play. A style of play that is heavily influenced by the Welsh coaching staffs experience during the Lions tour. A focus on a 10-12 axis, moving the ball, shifting the ball within the pods, and adding offloads. All of this will be covered in the next article. The tenets.
My theory is it’s too late for this World Cup, and with all respect to Owen Williams, but Wales does not have an Owen Farrell for this role. Nor is Dan Biggar a naturally flat playing 10 like George Ford or the fly-half Jonny Sexton is. Thereby, they are playing players not ideally suited for the system. Which again, suggests they are forced to change rather than changing themselves. This is a pet peeve of mine in the coaching world.
I will make this series as constructive as possible and will give reasoning behind my points. But this will probably be the most polarising series I write. This isn’t to blame the players. No, I am not pointing the finger there. For me, there’s an issue that I see basic mistakes in the Wales game on a fundamental level. The comments that come from Howley in response aren’t to fix these, but to add new things on to evolve their game. These problems are at the fault of the coaching staff.
I’m a fan of evolving a game plan of a team. I hugely, hugely endorse this. But you cannot build a skyscraper on poor foundations, and Howley appears to be ignoring these foundations. There are glaringly obvious issues and it is possible that Wales will always be on shaky ground.
Over the next week, I will review the tenets of the way Wales play. The new way they play and what they need to fix them for it to work. There will then be a shift in focus to the gameplan and tactics. I will comment on the good in the tactics and patterns. But I will also be commenting on why the tenets involved, don’t cover up the fundamentals. Many of the other Six Nations teams tenets are focused on key facets of the game that are fundamental to a team succeeding. Wales, on the other hand, appear to have tenets are more along the lines of add-ons. Which is why I lie this at the feet of the coaching staff. Not the players.
Author: Conor Wilson
Recently retired from the Military, Skydiving and rare Steak Enthusiast and Player of the beautiful game of Rugby.
Joe Schmidt, Will Greenwood and Rod MacQueen are my heroes, and my proudest moment was putting Jason Robinson in for a try at a promotional Rugby day. It was truly beautiful.