Wales v New Zealand – Five things we learnt
Wales yet again came up short against the All Blacks as their 64-year wait for a win continued, here we dissect where the game was won and lost
Possession not enough
There was a time in test rugby, roughly from 2009 – 2014, where goal kicking was enough to win you games. Where a game plan could be built around territory, attritional carrying and contestable up and unders – where the subsequent penalties could be converted into enough points to win the game. That is no longer the case and hasn’t been for at least three seasons and Wales are paying the price for being behind the curve. Saturday’s loss to New Zealand was a prime example – Wales had 63% percent of the ball and 67 % percent of the territory yet were outscored five tries to two. Up until the 38th minute Wales had a staggering 70% of the ball and 83% of the territory yet still trailed by six points to 12.
This isn’t to say that Wales were blown away; they weren’t. Wales were competitive for large periods of the game; periods in which Josh Navidi and Rob Evans excelled. But at no stage did Wales look as though they could outscore the All Blacks – and it must be said this was the worst All Blacks performance of the season, by some distance. It isn’t that Wales don’t have the players, they do. You just to need to look at how comfortable Owen Williams looks as a test 12 to realise that Wales could and should have been playing in this style at the beginning of the World Cup cycle, not over half way through. Whilst New Zealand, Australia, Scotland, England and Ireland have been strolling around in skinny denim for a while now, Wales have only just put down the bootcut Levis and look way behind the trend – just look at Scotland strutting their stuff in their skinny, eight try, Vivienne Westwoods.
Josh Navidi a legitimate Welsh seven
Josh Navidi has been one of those desperately unfortunate test players who’s found their career blocked by not one player, but two. Were it not for Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric, Navidi would have been a 40 cap player and his performance against the All Blacks backs that up. It was a consummate example of modern openside play. Wales’ top tackler (16) and third top ball carrier with (45m), this was Navidi doing the business on the floor and on his feet.
It was a performance which equalled one the most revered opensides in the game – Sam Cane. Add to that two clean breaks and four defenders beaten and you have a performance that legitimately places Navidi in the Welsh frame for the Rugby World Cup in 2019. Navidi is just 26 years old and is often omitted from the Welsh openside conversation where names such as Ellis Jenkins, Ollie Griffiths and James Davies tend to dominate the conversation. That may now have changed.
Rob Evans – the 3rd distributor
Rob Evans once again delivered a Gethin Jenkins-type of performance – of which there can be no greater praise. Delivering all the basics and excelling at the extras – a forward coaches dream. Evans was once again the teams third most prolific passer of the ball and has carved out a niche as Wales’ third distributor, a position where he regularly manages to pass the ball outside of the defensive ‘hinge’.
A distributing forward is a valuable weapon to have. When the ball reaches Rob Evans many defenders simply rush up believing that he is going to run straight and set up a short hit and ruck, only to be duped by a subtle pass to the outside. Evans has been Wales’ standout performer in this year’s Autumn Series and has ended the debate over who will become Wales’ next long term loose-head.
Defence – a rare lapse
Even when Wales have lacked the distributing twelve and line breaking fullback, they have always been able to rely on their defence. When analysing their stats, a defensive completion of over 90% is a given. Often the number is over 92% which is an awesome number at test level. But against the All Blacks, Wales completed just 78% of their tackles – just 86 from 110.
The Welsh backline missed 14 tackles between them which is a big number when you consider that the All Blacks backline missed just 8 tackles whilst having to make more than double that of Wales. It was a particularly difficult day for Wales’ wings with both Waisake Naholo and Rieko Ioane pouring through and around Wales like single cream. Between them the pair made ten clean breaks, beat eight defenders and scored four tires. The Kiwi wings were a joy to watch for the neutral; Sean Edwards will not have seen it that way.
Reiko Ioane – a man amongst boys
At just 20 years of age, it was the boy who was the man amongst boys. Ioane is a rare player, one who is blessed with both technical efficiency and natural talent. Whilst his hands are doing what they have been coached to do, his feet are doing what you can’t be coached to do. On numerous occasions he ghosted around Welsh defenders and moved through gaps that even quantum physics would struggle to explain.
He was top for metres made (117m) clean breaks (5) and defenders beaten (5), on either team, and most importantly scored two tries. Ioane won the 2017 Breakthrough Player of the Year and he should arguably have won the senior award too. It was a pleasure to watch him play. Well done Reiko.