Wales v Scotland preview
VICTORY for Wales this afternoon will do little more than paper over the cracks of an atrocious Six Nations campaign.
Head coach Warren Gatland’s archaic ‘Warrenball’ tactics are so out of touch with the modern game that his side were dinosaurs like in the embarrassing defeats away to Ireland (26-3) and England (29-18).
Former Wales captain and pundit Gwyn Jones has called for the New Zealander to come up with some new tricks.
Well Stan, he should have been coming up with a new plan back in 2009 when England started to suss it all out.
It’s true that Wales won another Grand Slam and a further Six Nations title on the back of big, extremely powerful players taking the ball round the edges and equally big, powerful wings making dents infield at a high tempo set, but Warren, times have moved on.
His sides were also lucky that during this period, traditional powerbrokers like England, Ireland and France were struggling in the doldrums.
As champions of Europe for so long, Wales were never able to progress against the smarter and far more skilful sides from the southern hemisphere, New Zealand in particular re-inventing the wheel with a breathtaking brand of simple but total rugby.
It’s also indisputable that this tried and tested blueprint saw the British and Irish Lions claim their first series victory in 16 years when the tourists left Australia with a 2-1 win last summer following three epic contests.
But put let’s put that into some context – they were fortunate the Wallabies hierarchy were holding on to their then coach Robbie Deans when he had clearly lost his team.
The Lions’ 23-21 first Test triumph owed Lady Luck more than a few rounds at the bar.
The Aussies lost their main kicker, centre Christian Leali'ifano, in the first minute after he ran into opposite number Jonathan Davies, James O’Connor missed 14 points with his shots at goal after stepping up to take over his duties, further injuries to backs Berrick Barnes and Pat McCabe meant they finished with openside flanker Michael Hooper in midfield while poor Kurtley Beale will perhaps forever be associated with slipping up when he could have won the game with a three-pointer in the last seconds.
The Wallabies’ new boss Ewen McKenzie gave the Aussies a tantalising taste of what might have been, his rejuvenated side running Wales ragged in November to chalk up their ninth win (30-26) in a row over the men in red.
Getting back to this weekend, a Wales win over a fairly wretched Scotland side will be a hollow one but savour it – it could be the last one for a while.
Gatland’s side face the very realistic prospect of losing five of their next six encounters after today.
They tour South Africa in June, where they play two Tests, before warming up for the 2015 Six Nations with autumn series clashes with New Zealand, the Springboks, Australia and Fiji.
A slim return is predicted.
With one eye on the future, Gatland has dropped tighthead prop Adam Jones, a shadow of the great player he once was, for this afternoon, Rhodri Jones the man earmarked as his successor, based on his phenomenal work rate and ability in the loose rather than any prowess in the scrum.
But he hasn’t gone far enough, the decision to keep the frankly awful Rhys Priestland in the match-day squad beggars belief while there is still no room in the starting XV for the sublime James Hook who could have slotted in at either No 10, centre or full-back and given the beleaguered fans a few thrills.
And the national team has undoubtedly been deeply affected by the civil war that engulfs the domestic game over the playing future of the Newport Gwent Dragons, Cardiff Blues, Ospreys and Scarlets in Europe, a destructive, divisive and downright tedious wrestling match that continues to rumble on.
And the player drain to France can’t help either, those departing across la Manche are now becoming accustomed to the robotic forward dominated and conservative systems so enamoured of the Top 14 that isn’t a million miles away from Warrenball.
Wales should also heed a warning from history when it comes to Scotland.
They too used to be kings of the northern hemisphere, winning Grand Slams in 1984 and 1990, and providing a large number of the 1989 Lions, as well as a winning openside captain in Finlay Calder, who claimed a 2-1 series victory in Australia 25 years ago.
A failure to adapt to the professional game saw the Scots plummet from one of the world’s best sides to one who makes its living scraping minor triumphs over Italy.
Wales do have a remarkable record over Scotland of late, having won ten of their last 11, dating back to a 2003 World Cup warm-up at the Millennium Stadium.
The hosts, who are 1/7, should have no great difficulty extending that record and will probably win by 10-15 points. Only don’t get too excited.