Wales only serve to frustrate
November 13, 2009
Wales endured a tough outing in Cardiff © Getty Images
Any fingernails left in the Welsh coaching ranks? It's doubtful.
Warren Gatland wanted momentum following last weekend's narrow loss to the All Blacks but what he got was an error-strewn performance against a brave but limited Samoa side. The game-plan should have been simple for a side showing only five changes from last time out - target the set-piece and put the visitors under pressure.
Samoa have been together only five days but Wales were wholly incapable of turning their overwhelming territorial advantage into points. In the past criticism of Wales has been less about their lack of try-scoring prowess and more about the fundamentals but on this evidence both are a concern for Gatland and his much-vaunted coaching team.
When the pressure was on to convert chances Wales were found wanting. The final pass was forced and overlaps ignored in favour of the conservative option. Wales have never been afraid to try something but in front of 58,000 people expecting them to cut loose they were struck by a terminal case of stage fright.
Only the back-three of James Hook, Leigh Halfpenny and Tom James looked comfortable with ball in hand, and even then Hook was guilty of spurning two try-scoring chances. Ospreys youngster Dan Biggar enjoyed an excellent outing at fly-half for much of the game, but as time wore on the elusive running of Hook began to tell and a switch of the playmaking duties may have served Wales well in the closing stages.
The aggressive stance shown by Stephen Jones in the colours of the British & Irish Lions would also have been welcome and a little more nous from the likes of the rested Shane and Martyn Williams may have also seen a few more opportunities taken.
On the positive side, openside Sam Warburton showed flashes of brilliance, with darting runs, good pace and strong awareness in his support play. Equally, Ryan Jones continued to rebuild his confidence with a Man of the Match display at No.8 and the aforementioned Halfpenny was a shining light in attack.
Seilala Mapusua's interception try came at a time when Wales were hammering on the door, their possession slowed illegally on many occasions as Samoa struggled to cope. Following the score, with 20 minutes left to play, instead of taking a breath and going back to their phases they panicked spectacularly and allowed the Islanders to camp on their line for the final exchanges.
This has happened before, last season against Canada in Cardiff and Italy in Rome, Wales struggled to put away opposition deemed to be below them in the build-up. Following their victory over Canada last season they regrouped to beat Australia, but then they fielded a sub-strength side. There is nowhere to hide now. This was an XV selected to win big and they failed under their own weight of expectation.
As a squad the need to band together as they are capable of so much. They have two Tests remaining this autumn and both of them will be serious examinations. The Pumas will grind away at their forwards and Australia could arrive at the Millennium Stadium in search of a Grand Slam. Two stages for Wales to impress and two opportunities they must take in order to have some momentum heading in to the Six Nations.
Wales are a side stuck between stations. Since their exhilarating 2008 Grand Slam they have failed to live up to the new expectations on them. Their underdog tag is gone for the majority of matches that they play now, but for all the talk of belief in the squad they are men not at home in their new outfits.
Huw Baines is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
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