This article takes a look at the new Welsh tenets.
I say new, as they appear to be just that after years in the “Warrenball” wilderness.
New Wales attacking tenets:
- Players must offload more.
- Players must quickly use the width of the field to try and get around the opposition as often as possible.
- The 10-12 axis must work together to exploit space on the field.
- Score as many tries as possible off first phase. (Varying angles on 1st phase).
- Develop a kicking strategy to target the wings and space in behind.
Problems with the tenets 1,2, and 4;
Welsh tenet 1
Rob Howley commented post World cup on the number of offloads the All Blacks do. How it helps them get over the line and allows them to rip apart defences. He commented on how Wales needed to adopt this tactic and make it more prevalent in their attacking game. Now, this is not a criticism, I have a lot of time for the offload. Done correctly, it is a brilliant extra to your team. And In a way, Howley and his term “earning the right” to offload is a relevant one.
Offloading when you have got your body over the gainline, your arms free and good positioning is key to a good offload. In this position, you are far more likely to offload to someone coming through off your shoulder than you are if you’re caught and wrapped up behind the gainline. In this position an offload will go behind the line, meaning the carrier still has a solid defensive line in front of him. Off the shoulder, the coming through player is already halfway through the line, gaining metres. So I understand his point.
What does annoy me though, is that he is focusing on it, as a crux of the game. A key attacking tenet, rather than an add-on. Which is what it should be. The offload is too unpredictable a tactic to base a huge part of your gainline advantage strategy on. The All Blacks can get away with it due to their skill levels in other areas and their mastery of it. But for them, it is an add-on.
The offload should be an addition. An addition to a kick-chase game, passing at the line, multiple decision makers, quick ball generation methods, distribution, rapid re-positioning, great catch and pass, great alignment, scything running lines, varying angles, the list goes on. All of these things, especially their lines and distribution are glaring problems in the Wales attack. I believe this is why Howley is commenting on the offload as if it’s their saviour. As if it will keep them competitive.
This is the entirely wrong mindset to have. Focus on your basics first. Practice and master them until you can do them at optimum mental and physical pressure. Then add the flashy stuff. Their prior skill sets, they have refused to work on. We will go into this later. But the result? This has them with the lowest tries scored out of all the Tier 1 teams in the World, and not scoring a try against a 13 man Australia in the World Cup.
This is an example of poor offloading decision making. The body positioning is good, but Rhys Priestland is static, and about to be tackled to the ground. This is a prime example of Wales putting themselves under pressure when it doesn’t need to happen.
Welsh tenet 2
This is a good tenet… if you are New Zealand, and not even they do it that often. In fact, whilst the All Blacks have the 2-4-2 in their armoury, they have experimented far more with their 1-3-3-1 over the last season. They aren’t playing wide-wide as often as they normally do and only do when they have physical dominance on the gainline against a side. And know that the Rush D won’t be as effective to stifle it. They are genuinely one of the only teams in the world who are skilful and in-tune enough, to play this sort of game.
Wales are one of the teams whose skillsets need improving to do it. Yet they haven’t done this. They have recently been going wide very early. Even when it’s not on. This is slightly vexing, as they have the power players to go through the opposition, but in their autumn internationals, they played very, very laterally.
This may be overplaying, but you have to get go forward before you can start going wide-wide. As if you do, no one buys your running lines, they just drift off them, and you end up crabbing across the field. Harder straighter running options from the Welsh forwards in this pattern, are definitely needed. As well as patience to target the edge of the defensive line. Generate quick ball, and exploit the blind from this, and then have a better chance of using wide-wide with forward momentum. The only time it properly works.
Enforced handling errors
Their urge to get the ball wide quicker than it needs to has led to numerous tip on passes and static passing, resulting in handling errors, and receivers out wide getting the ball standing still. This is not an ideal situation. A handling error allows the defence to press, catching the ball static out wide allows them metres, and it allows them to drift onto them.
Now it’s not all bad. There have been times where they’ve gone through the phases using the 1-3-3-1 the way it’s meant to be used and it’s made metres. However, when they try to go quickly on turnover or on a massive break, basic skills and alignment go out the window. Causing potentially huge overlaps to be scuppered. This is also relevant in regards to their passing in the wide channels in general. The alignment is incorrect in regards to the defence in front of them. We will show examples of this later. But this is the cost of moving the ball into this space and trying too hard.
Essentially, it appears the panic to get the ball wide is overriding the structure and fundamental thinking under pressure skills that should be used to get the ball into this space. Effective dummy lines and varying levels of alignment for example.
Welsh tenet 4
This isn’t so much of an issue. It’s just that Wales use this to compensate for the fact that they do not score many multi-phase tries. When they get into the 22 they tend to camp there and do one out passes. These passes are reasonably easy for defences like the All Blacks to soak up, and wait for or pressure for mistakes. Tries on the first phase are pretty impressive and very entertaining, but they cannot make up the majority of your successful attacks, which currently for Wales, they are.
In Attack, defences usually get harder to break down the longer the phases go on. In long periods of possession Wales need to make more of the chances they have, as they can’t rely on first phase scores where the alignment and training ground muscle memory is perfect and in the bank every time. This is something they need to do if they are to kick-start their attack.
Welsh tenet’s 3 and 5
The other tenets I have no problem with. I believe a playmaking 10-12 axis is a huge advantage in playing expansive rugby, and the development of a kicking game is something Ireland and England have both shown to great success. However, they must set on their default style before fully expanding these new systems. And seeing as Wales, in particular, want to move the ball wide quickly, a lot of their time could be spent on focusing on basics rather than trying to perfect a new game before their first one is nailed.
But that’s just me.
The next article will show us moving onto the patterns of the new Welsh Team.
Like Gareth and Steven have said, they use the same 1-3-3-1 that was used to such success with the Lions, with Dan Biggar remaining at 10 and Owen Williams at 12. Personally, I think there’s a lot to be said for Sam Davies at 10 with Biggar outside at 12. As Davies is that flat playing 10 who can take the ball to the line. Allowing Biggar to stand behind dummy runners and play a little deeper as is his preference. But as we saw in the Autumn Internationals there can be no doubt they are angling towards that 10-12 axis, with the positions interchangeable.
A lot of their patterns are very similar to Scotland, in this way there are only so many variations that can be done within the 1-3-3-1. But the difference is that the Scots operation, intent and skills within their pods and units is better. And this boils down to the level of coaching that Gregor Townsend has done with them.
The first part of the Welsh series can be found here.
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.