Wales wing their way to Australia today after allowing a nervous nation to bid them farewell at a few merry events, which included a mass barbecue at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, where the players modelled some of their sponsors' clothes. I hope they enjoyed it, because there won't be a catwalk where they're going.
Not that I'm writing off their chances of doing well, but I would feel a lot more optimistic if I could be sure that they are going to select a creative, thinking back-line.
Apart from my feeling that this World Cup is going to bring attacking rugby back into vogue, Welsh prospects would be better served if they adopt a more positive approach to the gain line.
We don't know what's been happening behind the closed doors of Wales's preparations, but if coach Steve Hansen is thinking of going in with a conservative line-up I don't think they will be making the most of their strengths. Over the past year Wales have contributed to their lack of success by a policy behind the scrum that plays into the opposition's hands. Their backs are taking the ball too far behind the gain line and, what's more, are moving forward in ones. They tend to get isolated and are easy targets for defenders.
When you get put to ground behind the gain line it makes it difficult for your forwards to get involved, because they have to come back. Taking the ball too deep gives the advantage to the defenders and makes it almost impossible to play through the phases with any comfort.
The idea is for the scrum-half to throw what in the rugby league code they call "flat ball", and for it to be collected at speed so that the gain line can be attacked.
The next vital part is for the receiver not to be alone but to have a support player on his shoulder. Instead of going in ones, go in twos. To have a support player takes defenders off you. You have the option of passing it to him or taking the tackle and unloading the ball - and by then the chances are you will be up to the gain line and your forwards will have a target in front of them. Now you can start building phases.
It is essential that Wales adopt this policy, especially in the group matches. We have the pacy backs who can make it work - as long as they are picked. If Wales go with big, defensive centres they are not going to be making the most of the pace in their squad.
Speed is going to be every-thing in the World Cup. What is the point in creating chances if you haven't got the pace to finish them off? There may be games up ahead when you have to think defensively, but I am convinced Wales can prosper best if they pick centres such as Iestyn Harris and Gareth Thomas. I was very disappointed when they didn't choose Jamie Robinson for the squad, because he packs the sort of pace we need.
And with a quick back three they would be able to give anyone problems if they were given the platform that comes from continually attacking the gain line.
England have long recognised the importance of winning the battle of the gain line. They invariably hit it in pairs. The support player is as vital as the ball carrier in that he puts the defence in two minds. And once they done the initial work, the forwards come rampaging in to set up the phases.
This is what Wales have been failing to do. They have been taking passes so deep they are on the back foot immediately and their forwards, who are not the biggest in the world, have been left with an impossible job. Because Wales struggle to get to the gain line, their backs are forced to kick. Too much kicking has been a big criticism of Wales this year, and the fault does not lie with the backs, because they don't have any option being so far behind the gain line.
Doing well in the World Cup is going to take a lot of thought and effort, but at least Wales ought to be aware by now of where they have been going wrong.Reuse content