On Saturday the Welsh drip into the capital with wistful prayers and an empty win column. They haven’t won a game of international rugby for just under a year.
The reason for the negativity in the Valleys concerns two C’s: creativity and coaching.
Wales supporters lament the fact that their team lacks creativity currently. Pundits have also described the way that Wales structure a game as predictable. In attack it is assumed that the Welsh will go with the arm all the way to one touchline and then either look to kick or go the other way until the opposite touchline is reached, etc. etc. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz……..
The issue here comes down to the selections made. Stephen Jones is a predictable player with a change of pace comparable with the Murrayfield coo (and that’s if he’s ever fit). The other 10s don’t seem much better. Hook never plays fly-half. Ever. Whenever Byrne steps in at first receiver he is incredibly selfish, rather than looking at what’s outside him – and even then there is no guarantee that Mike ‘I’m 6ft 10 but they’ll never see me creeping round the side’ Phillips will ever give it unless 10-12 metres inside ‘the pocket’.
Tactically the best option for Wales is to play Priestland at 10. He is in great form and is, right now, their best kicker out of hand. Gatland, however, is not quite desperate enough for that yet and so will try things like Hook as the playmaker because at least the long-faced flyer has experience.
Besides this Wales are also struggling for ‘go-forward’. Bradley Davies is their best ball carrier at present and the rest of the forwards seem to lack the power. Rees gets huge numbers of carries but never appears to make a dent, Warburton is dynamic but drifts out of games and Ryan Jones has the confidence of the tea-lady at talkSPORT. Wales need a spark.
All of these issues, though, may come down to one man: the coach.
Warren Gatland is famous for openly lambasting his/opposition players in the press and you never see him smile. It is likely that he has the man-management skills of Kim Jong-Il. With so many losses and a coach who is happy to single out one player for a defeat, it must be an uneasy team to play for.
Are Edwards and Howley any better? Edwards has a short fuse and Howley appears only to adhere to what Gatland wants. Of course this could all change if Warren stepped down and as a coaching ‘team’ 2 wins in 14 games is sacking form in most other walks of high-level sport.
Do I feel confident, though?
Sure Scotland have scored some tries, are confident because of wins and are at home but still… meeeh…. I want it to be more clear-cut than this! Wales scored a try on Saturday that was against the run of play, really, and cannot buy a win – but I am still wary of their threats. They can counter-attack as well as any team in the world and with the amount of pressure they are under they will either implode in a fit of s***-slinging and in-fighting (remember Mike Ruddock?!) or they can claim a needed victory. They have produced some spectacular, exciting rugby before and they could roll back the years to uncork something special.
So as confident as I am and as much as I think our scrum can bounce back against a Welsh pack that actually gave a good scrum-time account of itself against the English, I am cautious. Byrne and Roberts could scream back into form, Warburton could really announce himself on the international scene, Jonathan Davies could continue his meteoric rise through the ranks and that annoyingly effective hobbit Shane Williams could burst my bubble one last time.
I think Scotland will win, but I’m not going to put too much on it at the bookies…