1. The future’s bright (and, in Samson Lee’s case, orange)
Whilst it’s important to field a consistent XV to ensure familiarity within the team, Wales are often criticised for the lack of variety in their players and tactics. If they can take no victory from the last two weeks in South Africa, then there’s solace in the quality of talent coming through the ranks. Adam Jones has faced criticism this season under the new scum laws, yet his failure to adapt to them means that Scarlets prop Samson Lee has raised his hand for selection. Despite injuries in key areas the players available are still enviable (particularly around the backrow where Josh Turnbull was impressive) and the buzz around players such as Gareth Davies and Matthew Morgan is astonishing considering their relative anonymity internationally. Before the last World Cup, Warren Gatland made some big calls and brought in many fresh faces to rejuvenate Wales’ hopes in the tournament. He may well want to make some similar changes before next year, and it’s exciting to see that he has these options.
2. Dan’s the man
Wales have never failed to churn out a vast array of talented, skilful fly-halves over the years, and with the abundance that’s currently available it’s crazy that the no. 10 shirt is still such an issue. Against South Africa, Dan Biggar was selected, and whilst he was fairly average in both games (receiving a yellow card in the second test – more on that later), Wales need to stick with him for next year. James Hook has proved that he is a capable player at centre, fullback or fly-half, but it’s probably this versatility that saw him start on the bench rather than on the pitch against the Springboks. Elsewhere, Rhys Priestland plays a more attacking game in line with Wales’ general plan, hence Gatland’s loyalty and faith in him. If Dan Biggar can use next season to add this to his skillset, then, combined with his confidence, his ability to slot drop goals, and his positioning, Wales can be a formidable force.
3. The man in charge
As he proved against Australia in the third Lions Test last summer, Alun Wyn Jones is a capable and accomplished captain, almost forged to be a warrior and leader on the field. Gatland’s decision to select him as skipper was totally justified, and he demonstrated this again against the Springboks. Jones displayed immense inspiration, passion and control throughout both tests, but perhaps his finest hour came whilst Steve Walsh ruled a penalty try in the closing moments in Nelspruit. Keeping his cool and composure where others would possibly not, Jones rallied the team into a fierce, but ultimately fruitless, battle over the next few minutes and was graceful in defeat come the final whistle. Sam Warburton is no doubt the right man to lead Wales, but it’s a comforting thought that behind him is the towering figure of Alun-Wyn Jones, ready and waiting if necessary.
4. Discipline is key
In the two games against South Africa, Wales had three men sent to the sin bin, contributing to a seven minute period in Nelspruit where they had 13 men on the pitch. Against a team as clinical and unforgiving as the Springboks, this is simply not acceptable, and Wales were duly punished whilst handicapped; 14 points in both games. In the second Test, the sending offs stemmed from Wales’ inability to control a rolling maul, a weakness that was exploited by Ireland in the Six Nations too, and more work is needed ahead of the Autumn Series later this year. It may be unfair to point fingers, but the reality is Liam Williams’ shoulder barge came at a heavy cost of not only the game, but what would have been an historic win on South African soil. In the dying embers of such a massive game, being disciplined is vital.
5. It’s all about the win
Injured captain Sam Warburton summed his feelings up after the Second Test by mentioning how it’s not enough to lose gloriously anymore; the players are hungry for a Southern Hemisphere scalp. Whilst they were well and truly beaten in the first test, the second adds to a long list of tantalising results where Wales have been devastated in the last stages of a game. Wales have now not registered a win against a side from the ‘Big Three’ since their 21-18 victory over Australia back in 2008. There’s that old cliché often thrown around that “the gap is closing” between Northern and Southern Hemisphere sides, but until Wales can frequently record wins, the gap will remain as wide as ever. South Africa, Australia and New Zealand will all visit Cardiff in the Autumn for the last time before the World Cup begins, and you can guarantee that victory against at least one of these sides will be the minimum for Warburton and Gatland.
By Jack Hoare (@jackhoare)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images