Wales’ historic victory should not mask their flaws

It seems hard to believe that the Wales squad that won on Saturday included 11 Lions. It’s still harder to believe that it was more or less unchanged from the 2008 Grand Slam winning squad. The bottom line may be that this was a great victory for Wales and possibly the greatest comeback in Six Nations history, but it doesn’t immediately present a platform for Wales to improve from.

To give credit where credit’s due Wales’ tries, though scrappy in parts, all came from some beautiful running and well-timed offloads, but these only took place when Scotland had already become undone, by injuries and two successive yellow cards.

Saturday was the second appearance of a surprisingly timid Wales in this year’s Six Nations, a puzzling and terrifying thought given the players Wales have at their disposal.

Wales may be missing two or three of their leading lights through injury but even with a 3rd or 4th choice scrum-half and a depleted front row, Wales have the talent to beat any side in the six nations. The only conspicuously missing aspect of Wales’ game on Saturday, though, was decisiveness, an edge that can only come from strong leadership.

Ryan Jones is an intelligent and articulate man but he is currently a shadow of his former self. He took some decent high balls but he is missing the raw pace and power that once upon a time allowed him to take games by the scruff of the neck.

Wales desperately needed someone to take the initiative and galvanise the team but once Martyn Williams was substituted, his team mates appeared devoid of ideas. By the end of the game only one Welshmen didn’t deserve to be on the losing side on Saturday, try-scorer-come-magician Shane Williams, but even he took 70 minutes to get into the game.

There appears to be a lack of on-pitch generals in the Welsh team and there are certainly no obvious contenders for Wales’ captaincy (Shane Williams out in no man’s land? Alun Wyn ‘Tripgate’ Jones? Andy ‘Follow Me’ Powell?!), and it is this that seems to be the biggest chink in their armour.

Whatever the long term solution to this problem, Wales need to shake things up immediately if they have any hope of finishing above fourth this year.

With the absence of the beautifully disruptive Mike Phillips and the feisty Dwayne Peel, Wales are in desperate need of some serious bite in their half back pairing. Though Richie Rees has put some much needed thrust in at scrum half, the only long term solution, as I see it, is to put James Hook in at fly half.
This is a move I have been hoping to see for some time now, but this is not to say I have a problem with Stephen Jones. Indeed I think Jones is quite possibly one of the greatest fly-halves in the world but while he thinks faster than most, his legs can’t quite match the pace.

Move Hook to fly-half?

If Wales were to put Hook in his favoured 10 shirt, they might stand half a chance and though question marks still remain over his tackling ability, other than his one conspicuously terrible attempt that led to John Barclay’s try, his tackling has been impressive of late.

His creativity and point scoring ability is unquestionable, but more importantly with Hook at stand-off, Wales will have the perfect opportunity to use their greatest weapon, Jamie Roberts. Hook runs at defenders with the ball in both hands rooting them to the spot as his intentions are almost impossible to read, creating the kind of holes in defences that Roberts thrives upon.

I don’t think Hook will ever fully settle in at 13 and moving him across gives Wales a chance to use one of their great unsung heroes in Tom Shanklin, or even possibly opens the door for Llanelli’s star centre Jonathan Davies.

With Peel or Phillips back behind the scrum there is a strong argument for keeping Jones’ level headed influence in at fly half, but in the short term, creating a more dynamic back line may be Wales’ only hope for improvement.

By Sam Francis

4 thoughts on “Wales’ historic victory should not mask their flaws

  1. It all stems from the back row not delivering quick ball. Hopefully this will be rectified now that Andy Powell has been dropped. Cooper won’t start again so hopefully the backs will get some quick ball. The backs however need to mix things up a bit. Currently they play only in one direction until they have reached one side of the pitch, and then swap direction and play unitl they have reached the other. Defending teams are wise to this now and simply fan out the side of the ruck/maul that thye know Wales will play. A bit of mixtue and if things click a week Friday may be alot closer than many might think, besides France can’t play as well as they did last Saturday again. Can they?

  2. Cooper seems to have taken a lot of criticism…has he been that bad? Mike Phillips is a superb player and would make a big difference, but I’m not convinced Richie Rees is the answer to Welsh prayers in the meantime.

    The backs do indeed to mix things up a little, and Hook might be the man to do that if he’s calling the shots at 10?

  3. There’s no chance of Hook starting at 10. If he can’t keep hold of the shirt at club level they’re not going to give it to him for Wales. Besides I don’t Stephen Jones had a bad day (except that kick that led to the final try, what was he thinking with a 5 on 3 over lap!). Hooks position is in the centre, I would say at 12 but Roberts can’t play at 13 so at outside centre Hook’ll stay.

  4. Though this may not be the most likely of changes, especially now with both Phillips and Peel back on Wales’ radar, I still think it is one the most effective changes Wales could make.

    Hook has gone on the record saying that he feels happiest at fly-half and he is far too great a talent to waste in an ineffective position or even possibly loose.

    Wales has always been a great fly-half factory, and Bigger and Jones are both great players but neither of them are as instinctive or as incisive as Hook.

    I wont be holding my breath waiting to see Hook back in at 10 but with some of the recent, seemingly crazed, selections Gatland has been making of late anything is possible.

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