Evans fires warning to aimless Wales
February 16, 2011
James Hook has been warned to tighten up his kicking © Getty Images
Ieuan Evans believes that Wales must tighten up their kicking game if they are to build on last weekend's watershed victory over Scotland.
The legendary winger has pinpointed the errant kicking performances turned in by halfbacks James Hook and Mike Phillips at Murrayfield as a major worry in the greater context of this year, which culminates for Wales in a fiercely competitive Pool at the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.
Victory in Edinburgh ended an eight-Test winless run for Warren Gatland's side but Evans has warned that it was only their opponents' lack of bite that spared them further ignominy. Scotland failed to cross the Welsh line despite the visitors almost conspiring to waste a brilliant opening salvo, and 16-0 lead, with the sin-binnings of lock Bradley Davies and fullback Lee Byrne.
Hook's recall at fly-half in place of Stephen Jones was the major headline grabber in the build-up to the game but Evans, who won 72 Wales caps and seven for the British & Irish Lions during his career, has refused to fully endorse the switch following a performance that blended the sublime and the ordinary.
"You saw in the first 30 minutes or so what he brings in an attacking game," Evans said. "When he carries the ball in two hands, he frightens defences. We saw with that try for Shane Williams, Wales executed very well and created mismatches.
"In the second-half you realised that James Hook hasn't played that much at 10. There were opportunities for Wales to ease some of the pressure and our kicking game let us down badly, as it did against England. It's a part of our game we really need to work on hard.
Ieuan Evans discusses James Hook's switch to 10 and Shane Williams' talents%]
"When you kick into midfield as often as they did against England you feed that back-three all day. You can't afford to do that at the World Cup, against the likes of South Africa, New Zealand, Australia or even France, you feed quality back-threes and they will make you pay.
"Scotland don't have that attacking threat so a lot of our wasteful kicking didn't hurt us as much as it might have. Against better sides, it's an element of the game that Wales will have to address. That comes from 9, Mike Phillips, and also from James Hook at 10."
Williams' tries continued his remarkable scoring run against the Scots, he has crossed the whitewash in the last four fixtures between the sides, and put him within touching distance of Ian Smith's Championship record of 24.
Much to the horror of Wales' fans, the Ospreys flyers is set to call time on his international career following the World Cup. Evans, whose 33 Test tries place him third on the Welsh scoring charts behind Gareth Thomas and Williams, has calmed fears for the future however, insisting that Wales' young wing prospects offer something different, rather than inferior.
"They broke the mould with Shane Williams," he said. "You don't get many Shane Williamses in a generation, he brings a unique skillset. It can be quite hard to replicate. The other players bring a different skillset. George North is poles apart from Shane Williams. He brings size, power, strength and pace.
"[Leigh] Halfpenny is a terrific footballer and a wonderful finisher but he needs to come back from injury. Morgan Stoddart has taken his chance well. There has to be that evolution but I'd like to think that Shane still has plenty left in the tank. Being in the right place at the right time isn't a bad knack to have for a wing."
Ieuan Evans is supporting RBS RugbyForce, a community programme which supports local rugby clubs. To register your rugby club for the RBS RugbyForce Weekend click here.
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Huw Baines is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.