>> Shane Williams: New-style Wales excite
CLOSE, but no cigar! So it’s another defeat to Australia and the 13th in a row, but I was hugely encouraged by this Wales display. It was always going to take time for Warren Gatland’s side to change their attacking approach, but I think some of the strides they’ve made in training were evident here.
At times, Wales were potent in attack and we have to take some positives from this. I thought Owen Williams and especially Steffan Evans went very well and Jonathan Davies, Gareth Davies and Dan Biggar all had good games.
I called for patience in the run-up to this match, but I have to admit I was surprised by how quickly Wales seemed to click with their passing game. We spread the ball wide, looked dangerous, and troubled what is widely seen as one of the best attacking sides in world rugby. I’m hugely excited by that. Yes there were defensive issues which will have to be addressed for the future, but I’m a glass-half-full kind of man and I’m going to look at the positives here. First, how good was Steffan?
I didn’t want to put too much pressure on his young shoulders before the game, but he was excellent – solid in the air, worked well off his wing and what a finish it was for his try.
It was a special team effort and the try showed me that Wales do have the attacking ability to take on the world’s best teams. First, it was a lovely break from Gareth. He was electric and put Wales on the front foot with that run and from there, the pleasing thing for me was there was no panic.
We spread the ball back left and Owen and Dan did well to get the ball to Leigh Halfpenny who delivered the try-scoring pass to Steffan. It was no easy score, the young man bouncing his way to the line and his physicality in that particular play really made me sit up. This guy is the real deal.
At that moment I really sensed something special might happen at Principality Stadium and the atmossive phere for the 80 minutes was pretty electric, despite a number of fans arriving late.
Sadly, Australia outscored us four tries to two and Wales weren’t quite at the races in defence – I’m sure that would have enraged the watching Shaun Edwards. But as much as it takes time for an attacking game to flourish, it’s the same with a defensive wall, especially when you field so many new players in key positions, like inside centre.
I thought Williams did well at 12 and I liked the way he always looked to give the ball width when he was handed possession. He and Biggar looked pretty seamless in the way they exchanged as first and second receiver and that bodes well for the future. Gatland said he will make changes for the Georgia game, but I’m not sure that’s right.
If I was him, I’d try and keep as much of the same back division in place because if they can show the sort of performance they did here on the back of just a few week’s training together, imagine what they can do
with seven more days to perfect the little nuances of the game.
I’d give the pair another run at 10-12, but one man who we will most likely have to change is Jonathan Davies. His looked like a nasty ankle injury and if it’s a long-term problem, that could be a massive blow to Wales for the rest of their autumn Tests.
Again, I thought he was superb against Australia. He made a searing early break which always gives a player confidence and after that he was right back to the levels which made him such a star for the Lions against New Zealand in the summer.
If Daviesn isn’t fit to face Georgia, Warren faces a real selection headache. At the moment the man the rest of the boys call ‘Foxy’ is the best outside centre in the world, in my view.
Scott Williams is the most likely option to replace him, despite not being in the original squad. But Tyler Morgan is out injured and I think Owen Watkin’s more natural position is at 12, rather than 13, so for me, Scott on the rampage outside Dan and Owen would be a threat.
Another thing I’d like to see against Georgia is for the basics to be done just that little bit better. On Saturday there were some dropped balls, knock-ons, a couple of wayward passes and other moments of indecision.
Wales played well, much better than they have done in the past against Australia, and they only had a small preparation time to get things right.
Georgia showed against Canada they won’t be easy pushovers. They hammered them, if truth be told, and they’ll really challenge us on Saturday. That’s why, like I’ve argued with the back division, I’d keep replacements to a minimum to try make sure we don’t take a step back from the one we made in a forward direction here.
We have to look at the long term here and that is the 2019 World Cup. Against an Australia side at the top of their game right now – they beat the All Blacks recently don’t forget – we ran them very close with a newlook team and a new style of play. I’m not sure there are many outfits in the world who would have been able to do that. Now, the next step is to try and get this young and adventurous XV a win and I’m confident we’ll do that against Georgia.
“If Wales keep to this script it is a pretty exciting time to be a fan of the team. My message is stick with these new young boys”
So long as Wales stick to their script – and I can’t see us changing from it now under Gatland – this is an exciting time to be a fan of the team. My message to supporters is stick with these young boys.
They have the talent to go far and against the Wallabies, they showed it. Now we can look forward.
Things don’t get any easier with New Zealand and South Africa to come after Georgia, but as an international rugby player you want to challenge yourself against the best. In the meeting with Australia, Wales did that and nearly came out on top. In my view they’re really not too far away.
New 10-12 axis: Owen Williams and Dan Biggar combine
Real deal: Steff Evans took his try in great style