For supporters of Wales there was something inevitable about the result and performance in the first autumn fixture of the season. An inevitably Wales were playing Australia again, an inevitability about the result and an inevitability about Wales continual decline as a top test team.
Not for the first time Wales struggled to get up to speed in the first game in a series of test matches. They looked slow of mind and body and lacking the sort of spark and intensity that characterised some of their positive play we saw against New Zealand in the summer.
We need to remember this was a Welsh team shorn of their head coach, who the WRU has generously allowed to go on a “gap year” with the Lions. Are there many employers who would allow their chief executive a year off to pursue other interests?
To give credit to Australia, this was a team that played with confidence and zip in everything they did. Their approach was simple but very effective; ball carriers hit up the middle and with the resulting fast ball their outside half Foley had numerous options to break through the Welsh defence.
In this blog we will focus on two areas of interest that we spotted in the game – Wales’ inside defence and a comparison of the attacking instincts of the Ospreys’ pair Dan Biggar and Sam Davies.
Wales inside defence
It seems a long time ago now that we held up the main strength of this Welsh team as being their defence. This Welsh team seems to have big problems in this area with lots of one on one tackles being missed and failures in the defensive system.
One specific area of weakness that is very apparent is their inside defence and their fragility around rucks and mauls.
In the Australia game a try came from the inability of the Welsh cover defence to fill the “inside” hole, which was ruthlessly exploited.
The clip below shows the key moment that led to the try
If we take a still from the move (see below) we have the Aussie hooker Moore playing the first receiver and 5 runners or options that he can choose from = see the ringed players.
Moore choose the pass to his number 10, Foley but the fact Moore takes the ball to the line and the number of options running off him, means the Welsh defence becomes confused about who to tackle.
When Foley takes the ball he is again playing right on the gain line. Bradley Davies and Biggar (circled in blue below) both take Foley which leaves a huge hole on the inside.
This hole should be filled by Samson Lee but a combination of his poor positioning and the traditional Aussie tactic of subtly blocking defenders in front of the ball means a single pass can release Haylett-Petty.
Other examples of Wales frailty in this area were seen in the summer. In this example in the first test, New Zealand drive with forwards outside their 22m line which immediately results in no Welsh pillars or forward cover on one side of the ruck.
In the still below we can see Jon Davies trying to call forwards around the corner to plug the gap but it was too late and the New Zealand scrum half ran through the gap to threaten Wales again.
Here is another example from the 2nd test against New Zealand. In this case Warburton is in place but there are no front row pillars and a simple step inside opens up the gap.
Wales’ front row need to do a lot more to work in to positions around rucks and push across the field to defend inside balls.
Biggar and Sam Davies at 10
Dan Biggar has developed in to a top number 10 with his game management, defence and kicking ability. His one area of weakness though continues to be his inability to attack from 10 and bring others in to play.
By contrast, his Ospreys’ team mate Sam Davies has been a revelation in the Pro12 this year with his flat play and threats to the gain line. The Aussie fixture allowed to to see both players in action and make comparisons.
The first game scenario (see below) shows Biggar attacking on the half way line. In contrast to the Aussie try above, Biggar doesn’t have the same number of options (there is no short ball available and no inside options). He does though have a numerical advantage if the ball is used well.
As we can see below if Biggar plus the two Welsh players outside him can fix the Australian defence there is the opportunity for North to run the red line outside the Australian defence.
Unfortunately this option isn’t exploited. Instead we see Biggar miss out Scott Williams and give it to Moriarty who runs an angle back in to the Aussie defence and is tackled.
If we look back at the still above, we can see Biggar has passed the ball about 5 metres infront of the Australian defensive line. This means Foley doesn’t have to commit to Biggar and can just drift on to the next player. Foley’s body language says he already knows Biggar will just pass the ball on.
Example two (see below) again sees Biggar passing several metres before contact but not threatening the line. In this play he has an Australian front row player infront of him and Tipuric offering support on the inside.
Instead of sensing the opportunity and attacking the channel his instinct is to shift the ball to Scott Williams who was tackled in a simple one on one scenario.
In the second half Sam Davies came on for Biggar and immediately we saw the difference in approach between the two players.
As the image below shows, Davies takes the ball flatter and releases closer to the gain line. We can see that the Australian defender is now committed to tackle Davies and can’t just drift out. In this example Davies’ pass was awful but the positive intent was clear.
Indeed, a few minutes earlier Davies is again playing right in the face of the Australian defence and can make a simple pass to put Cuthbert in to space.
Davies has a long way to go to establish himself as a test 10 but these examples show why he is being touted as one solution to Wales’ lack of creativity. The ability to receive the ball flat, fix the defence and release players in to holes is something the Australians are masters at and an area that Davies is also developing as his key threat.
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