Howley sticks for Sydney
Caretaker Wales coach Rob Howley has named an unchanged starting XV for the third and final Test with Australia in Sydney on Saturday, with the tourists aiming to avoid a series whitewash and record a first win on Wallaby soil in 43 years.
The sole difference to the squad that lost so agonisingly 25-23 to a last-minute Mike Harris penalty in Melbourne sees Scarlets hooker Ken Owens depose the man who committed the costly infringement at the final maul - Richard Hibbard - on the bench.
The announcement, that sees the likes of Matthew Rees and Rhys Priestland retained, James Hook again benched and 6 Nations stand-out Ian Evans ignored altogether, has been met with general derision in the Principality - and the criticisms bear more than a little credence.
In Wales we can be guilty of making knee-jerk calls and climbing all over coaches' backs after one minor setback; the years following the remarkable 2008 Grand Slam were mainly filled with calls for Warren Gatland's head as the national team had become ponderous and predictable - yet a fine World Cup showing and subsequent second European clean sweep have since placed these notions to the back of the cupboard.
There does not seem to be a sudden re-emergence of the clamours for 'Gatland out' or 'Howley, hwyl fawr', but following two morale-sapping defeats Down Under the coaching team's set-up, selection and game-plan are certainly under scrutiny from the Welsh public and press alike.
The main focus of supporters' ire - in the past two weeks especially - is overwhelmingly pointed at the man currently in possession of the number 10 jersey, Scarlets' Priestland.
Priestland's insistence on kicking has led to a clamour calling for him to be dropped
Fly-half has traditionally been a position of great strength for Wales, with the legend and perception of what a stand-off should do growing over time with majestic and mystifying moments of magic from Barry John and Phil Bennett that delighted the crowds in the 1970s and equally assured, well-executed performances from the ever-dependable Neil Jenkins in the 1990s - and more recently from Test centurion and Lion Stephen Jones.
With this mentality and culture ingrained in the Welsh psyche, it is a little easier to understand that every time Priestland kicked the ball away on Saturday a nation groaned.
That is not to say that Wales are unrenowned for putting boot to ball. In fact, in a 5 Nations fixture with Scotland in 1963, legendary pivot Clive Rowlands kicked possession away so many times an incredible 111 line-outs were formed in dire conditions.
In this instance Wales won the match 6-0. Fast-forward 49 years and the result of a heavy kicking game was vastly different, as a mixture of naive placement, poor control and an even poorer chase cost Wales possession and momentum on a frustratingly regular basis. If a team is going to rely on booting the ball deep into opposition territory or test their aerial abilities with a number of high bombs, the tactic must be exacted with precision and accuracy to be effective - and this certainly was not the case for the Welsh at Melbourne's Etihad Stadium.
Compare this to Australia's composure with ball in hand, ability to test the Welsh defence with incisive running and an uncanny ability of knowing what to do and when that still eludes the northern hemisphere when pitted against the Tri-Nations and you can see why the split of World Cup wins stands at 6-1 in favour of the south.
The now-infamous kick Priestland executed with little more than a minute to play to hand the Wallabies one final chance has provided a nation with a suitable scapegoat this week, and with it the wails of 'Hook in!' are once again reverberating around the valleys.
Yet few stop to question replacement half-back Rhys Webb's decision to sling the ball out from a solid forward rumble, or even query an experienced pack that allowed the young and exuberant scrum-half the chance to put hands on the ball in the first place, that left Priestland little option but to punt the ball clear. Getting caught in possession would have provided the excellent Australian back-row the opportunity for turn-over ball and a nervy or sloppy pass to his outside backs would have left them equally isolated and vulnerable.
The Scarlets fly-half was praised for his cool-headed performances in the World Cup
The latter options may have been preferred by Hook in the same situation, from which a penalty chance could have been gleaned in any case. Yet again a 'brave' Welsh performance results in a game of ifs and buts.
Protestations could be made that Hook would have controlled the game differently and his stint at fly-half last season with Perpignan have made him an all-round better player; but despite Hook's flair he has also been more than capable of putting in flaky performances - epitomised by some awful performances in last year's World Cup that have since left the management wary of his inclusion at Test level.
This considered, if the coaching team desires a particular game-plan to be implemented that sees a level of composure and good tactical kicking to keep Australia pressurised and on the back foot - and Priestland is considered the best option to make that happen - then persisting with the 24-year-old seems the sensible option; with the improvements of execution and a harder chase imperatives.
The set-piece also needs tightening up as Matthew Rees's wayward throwing at the line-out last week was another costly facet that contributed in defeat.
The veteran hooker's inclusion seems a baffling decision following an error-strewn, tired showing in Melbourne, leaving Ken Owens, who was faultless in his duties during the first Test, wondering what needs to change for him to get a start.
Similarly Ian Evans's failure to make the Test 22 altogether despite displaying a fantastic return to form that was a significant factor in Wales and the Ospreys' success this season has left many scratching their heads.
Added to this the further neglect of form openside, Justin Tipuric, who has to make do as a replacement, and the coaching team have caused a few eyebrows to be raised back home.
But to counter the criticism and finger-pointing, Rob Howley, Sean Edwards et al clearly believe that the XV that started did enough to earn a long-sought victory in Australia; and the manner of the defeat made it even harder to swallow.
To come within moments of an historic win in the southern hemisphere you must be doing something right and Warren Gatland's deputies are maintaining their faith and trust in the men that have done so much to put Wales back on the map at the upper echelons of international rugby. The group needs to remain united and come together under captain Sam Warburton to redress the wrongs they experienced last week.
The latest IRB world rankings that see Wales leap-frog England to 4th will provide a major boost for the team and the knowledge that they will qualify as a top seed for the 2015 World Cup if they maintain that position until December should act as even greater motivation to perform in the Test arena.
As plenty of pundits have said, Wales have the players to make it happen. It is about possessing the ability to dominate a rugby super-power and close the game out, as Australia, New Zealand and South Africa adeptly demonstrate on an habitual basis.
If this isn't addressed, will a 3-0 series defeat be considered progress?
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Last edited by TRF_Olyy; 22-06-12 at 01:54 PM.
Originally Posted by Speedy
OSPREYS CALL TO ARMS: "As the Good Lord said, love thy neighbour as thyself. Unless he's a Turk, in which case KILL THE BASTARD!!!"
Originally Posted by Feic
22-06-12 01:51 PM
Wales now have a big advantage ahead of England in the rankings, all they need to do is safely negotiate wins over banana skins Argentina and Samoa and then they will leave England needing to make an upset over one of the big three this year, South Africa, Australia or New Zealand.
Originally Posted by cyRil
Last edited by psychic duck; 22-06-12 at 03:40 PM.
111 lineouts? Bleeidn' 'eck!
Good read cyRil. It's an interesting point you make about Priestland suiting a game plan Howley is trying to implement. IMO it's their game plan that letting this Welsh side down at the moment. Don't get me wrong, I don't think Priestland is the right man for the out half berth, but it seems ridiculous to play a game centred around kicking when you have a back three of Cuthbert, North and Halfpenny waiting out wide. Wales were absolutely starved of possession on the weekend, so it was no major surprise that they were on the losing side, despite being fairly clinical with what chances they had. What's more surprising is the fact that this game plan is being implemented by their backs coach of all people.
Argentina won the WC twice?
Originally Posted by psychic duck
However nice article, on Priestland I do feel he can be the guy for the job but he hasnt really shown it since the WC. I still think Biggar should be given a shot behind a first XV rather than a experimental team in the AI's at least to see if he can get Wales moving like Priestland did last year.
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Excellent article as always Cyril.
Where is this intelligent, well written language in your general posts?
How much of an influence and part of the decision making process has Gatland had on the 2nd test and this weeks team selection. It would strike me as odd that he is with the team as head coach and had no impact at all. If any thing I would have thought that at least some of the decision making would go via Gatland. I am sure he is not the type to sit back say nothing and have no say on what is his squad. So prehaps Gatland should take some of the critical comments or is Howley just been used as a deflection.
Nice one Cyril, a very insightful read. The crazy thing is that despite a complete lack of possession, territory and correct decision making Wales could be sitting pretty at 2-0 up in the series had a few 50/50 decisions gone the other way.
When you look at it like that I suppose the coaching staff have a point.