An­scombe ex­cel­lence left Sam in the shade

The Rugby Paper - - Interview - SHANE WIL­LIAMS

Judge­ment Day was a chance for some of Wales’ best play­ers to book their place on sum­mer tours and while some did ex­actly that, oth­ers flopped on the big oc­ca­sion and I’m sure the coaches would have looked at the ac­tion on the field and made their minds up about who, will and won’t be head­ing Down Un­der.

It’s a mas­sive few months ahead with the Lions trav­el­ling to New Zealand and Wales tak­ing on Tonga and Samoa and I’m look­ing for­ward to both tours. One thing I’m not so happy with is the Ospreys’ per­for­mance yes­ter­day in the first game.

Just when it mat­ters most they’ve hit a poor run of form and their lack of con­fi­dence showed it­self here once again. They sim­ply made too many ba­sic er­rors and if you do that at any level, you’re go­ing to strug­gle to get mo­men­tum with ball in hand. In­vari­ably, that means you end up los­ing games.

Sur­pris­ingly, Rhys Webb and Justin Tipuric were vir­tu­ally anony­mous and I can imag­ine that War­ren Gat­land wouldn’t have been too im­pressed in the crowd.

Ev­ery­one knows how big a fan I am of Sam Davies, and he has to face the Pa­cific Is­landers with Wales this sum­mer. But when it came to the big oc­ca­sion and start­ing at fly-half, I thought he was out­played by Gareth An­scombe. Sam wasn’t helped by be­ing part of what was a poor team dis­play. He seemed to lack op­tions when­ever he had the ball and if you’ve watched the Ospreys this sea­son, you’ll know that it’s not very of­ten you’ve been able to say that about them.

While the Ospreys and Sam strug­gled, it was a dif­fer­ent story for the Blues. I thought they were ex­cel­lent and this was a per­for­mance that has been com­ing. Their pre­vi­ous games with Le­in­ster, Glouces­ter and Ul­ster had seen the Blues play some bril­liant rugby and they were at it again here.

I thought An­scombe was at the heart of ev­ery­thing they did well. I think he’ll tour with Wales.

It’s been in­ter­est­ing to watch Gareth from afar be­cause he clearly has so much tal­ent. He hasn’t quite been able to string a run of games to­gether at in­ter­na­tional level yet and in his de­fence, in­juries have played their part in that. That’s al­lowed Sam – de­servedly so – to get his chance, but Gareth edged him in this match.

He’s had four of five ex­cel­lent games since re­turn­ing from his groin prob­lem and the thing I re­ally like about him is the way he mar­shals his backs around the field. He’s an ex­cel­lent gen­eral, takes con­trol of his forwards, and shows some lovely touches on the gain line. I love how flat he plays to the op­po­si­tion de­fence. Some­times that can lead to an in­ter­cept, but the pos­i­tives out­weigh the neg­a­tives and he helped bring the Blues’ pow­er­ful run­ners into the game.

Alex Cuth­bert was one of those, and I thought he, Gethin and El­lis Jenk­ins were two other stand-out per­form­ers. I think both will be with Wales, as I’m not sure Gethin has had enough games to make the Lions. But he im­pressed me with his de­fence, shoot­ing out of the line and help­ing to stop of the Ospreys in their tracks. As for El­lis, he’s one of a num­ber of tal­ented young sevens we have in Wales and that was shown in the Dragons’ de­feat by the Scar­lets.

What a tal­ent Ol­lie Grif­fiths is! The Dragons have had a rough time of it of late, but they com­peted well at the break­down and they were the bet­ter team go­ing into half time.

They looked very com­fort­able in de­fence, cov­er­ing the Scar­lets’ kick­ing eas­ily and Grif­fiths was at the heart of it all, he was ev­ery­where. He was a com­plete nui­sance at ruck time and very ef­fec­tive at choos­ing when or when not to com­pete. He doesn’t look par­tic­u­larly big, but he more than matched guys like John Bar­clay in the tight ex­changes. I’m not sure if ei­ther he or El­lis will tour with Wales, but if Robin McBryde can af­ford to leave ei­ther of them out then we can’t be do­ing too badly.

For the Scar­lets, Jonathan Davies and Liam Wil­liams came up with the game’s cru­cial mo­ments and they were al­ready on the plane for the Lions be­fore this game.

Those two aside, St­eff Evans was the man wear­ing red to im­press me the most. In a dour first half, he was the Scar­lets’ shin­ing light. His work rate off the ball is ex­cel­lent and if you’re will­ing to do that, you’re al­ways go­ing to be in with a chance or two of a try. When he gets into space, he’s in­cred­i­bly dan­ger­ous and he’ll be push­ing to start in a red jersey in the next few months.

“Ev­ery­one knows I am a big Sam Davies fan but An­scombe out­played him and was at the heart of ev­ery­thing good”

Find­ing form: Blues bruiser Alex Cuth­bert

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