Rugby Union: The French master-class: simple and quick

Jonathan Davies says if Wales learn the lesson of Paris they will win at Twickenham
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The Independent Online
WALES have picked an almost unchanged team for their opening Five Nations match against England at Twickenham on Saturday but if they don't change the way they played against Italy, they'll get beaten. I don't care how shell-shocked the English are after Paris, Wales will play right into their hands if they perform in the same slow, ponderous and lateral way that nearly gave the Italians an unexpected victory in Llanelli.

Wales are capable of overcoming England but only if they play with a style that utilises the pace they have in their back division and make the most of their opportunities. That will only happen if they hit the game at three times the speed they showed against Italy.

The Welsh coach, Kevin Bowring, talked about how many rucks and mauls they won against the Italians. But the number you win is nothing like as important as how quickly you win them. All that matters is how good the ball is, how rapidly you get it out and how many defenders you clean out in the process.

If Wales can generate fast ball, then they have a chance. The same thing applies to the line-outs, which were also slow against Italy. The catch and drive has to be dynamic if it is to do any good against England. And you have to mix it up. I would go for more peel ball, where one of the props peels off from the front of the line, collects the catch and heads straight for the opposing outside-half. Quick, off-the-top ball would also enable Rob Howley to hit Arwel Thomas and Scott Gibbs when they are flat.

But the essence is speed. You have to commit English defenders to the ruck with quick pick-up-and-drives that will eventually suck them in. The half-backs have to control this through good communication with the forwards. And when you start spreading it, you have to hit them as quickly as the French did. There was nothing complicated about the way France dominated; they just did the simple things at speed.

Wales must mobilise their backs in the same way and that is a problem with Neil Jenkins playing at full-back. He has to be in the team for his kicking but as much as I admire him as a player, he isn't fast enough to do the modern full-back's role of coming into the line at pace. I just hope Wales are working on finding their way around this by practising interchanging between him and the two wingers. On most attacking plays, Jenks should move to the blind-side wing and let Ieuan Evans or Gareth Thomas cut the line with the speed they have.

This interchanging between the back three helped Wales win the Triple Crown in 1988 when we faced much the same problem. Paul Thorburn moved to the wing to allow Ieuan or Adrian Hadley to come into the line from the full-back position. In this way, we made the most of the pace we had and we were rewarded.

Whether Jenks should be at outside-half is another argument but the selectors decided to stay with Arwel and I think he will be assisted if he takes the responsibilities associated with the job - and that means the kicks. I don't mean the kicks at goal, which can be safely left to the best man in the world, but all the others which they tend to share at the moment.

Kicking is a vital part of an outside-half's game and when he is doing it well it builds his morale. Arwel is very much a confidence player and he needs the feeling of control that a good kicking game can provide. Every chance Wales have depends on them getting it right behind the scrum. They have to cover up their weaknesses and make the most of their strengths if they hope to win.

The one bright spot of the match against Italy was the performance of the Welsh front five. They played exceptionally well and I expect them to come out steaming at Twickenham. In sharp contrast the English front five were destroyed in Paris and their confidence will be badly shaken.

They took such a hiding that the strength in the English back-row, that we thought was going to be the telling point in the match, was nullified. Wales must give them an early sign that it is not going to be any easier in this match either.

I'm hoping Wales will be studying the video of the Paris game because it will reveal that it was simple things done quickly that gave the French their two tries. The first came from a short pass from Philippe Carbonneau to a back-rower who sliced through the England line to set up Philippe Bernat-Salles.

The second was a simple miss-pass by Thomas Castaignede that confused the England defence. It wasn't the pass that threw them, it was the presence of a prop on Castaignede's shoulder. The outside-half missed the prop and the inside-centre with his pass but because the prop was there, the English hesitated and Jeremy Guscott hadn't drifted wide enough to stop Jean-Luc Sadourny cutting the line and sending Christophe Dominici over.

It all looks easy, but the lesson is clear. Whatever you're going to do, do it quickly.

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