Jonathan Davies: Tinkering Welsh are in danger of losing their way

Click to follow
The Independent Online

One word sums up the Welsh performance against Tonga yesterday: sloppy. Make that two words: very sloppy. And now they have to start again after losing the momentum they had gained after their opening victory against Canada.

In this space on Saturday I expressed my fears about wholesale changes that the coach, Steve Hansen, had made in the team. I could understand his wish to give as many players as possible an opportunity to stake their claim in the opening two matches. When you are trying to maintain morale throughout the squad, you want to show your faith in them. But as laudable as that is, the overriding priority in a tournament as important as the World Cup is to secure victories while building up your confidence and rhythm through the group matches.

Having spent such a long time seeking the blend that looked so promising against Canada, Wales immediately lost it by changing the team so drastically. In the process, they almost lost the match as well.

Tonga went at them so fiercely in the closing stages that Wales were hanging on grimly to their seven-point advantage.

You have to give credit to Tonga but this wasn't a case of them muscling their way through the game. They weren't their usual physical selves and there were few, if any, big hits. They played to the best of their ability and raised their game at the right times only because the Welsh untidiness invited them to.

So Wales were left in a worse state than when they started, with more questions than answers. A lack of concentration in the scrums and at kick-offs eroded their confidence. Little sign of any dynamic activity came from the Welsh forwards, and no one carried the ball with any purpose.

You could tell by their reaction as they came off at the end that this was a team very disappointed in themselves, particularly as a few players were desperate for the chance to shine. Alix Popham started well at No 8 but because of the performance as a whole, no one could stick their hand up and demand selection for the next game.

Rhys Williams at full-back was unsure, and the sadness is that the player he replaced, Kevin Morgan, who played well against Canada, would have benefitted from another game after his long lay-off. Iestyn Harris, the central figure against Canada, was not due to play yesterday but was restored to inside-centre when Sonny Parker failed a fitness test.

But this was a different situation. He had very little of the quality ball he had in the opening match and only rarely got a chance to shine - luckily for Wales, one of those opportunities resulted in a stunning high pass to Martyn Williams who scored the try that was to seal the Welsh victory.

Williams was another who had lost his place but he came on as a replacement to score a drop-goal as well as that try. Stephen Jones has been a great servant to Wales but he did not look his old self and I can't understand why he took over the goal- kicking duties from Harris, who was flawless against Canada. If you have a kicker on form in the team, you let him carry on. Jones would have understood that.

I'm not saying that Harris would have kicked the goals that Jones missed but he is the form kicker, so why tinker? Now Wales have to recover the confidence and rhythm that went out of the window yesterday. They meet Italy next weekend in the match that decides who goes on to the quarter-finals.

Italy have proved that their pack has more purpose, more pace, and can produce more dynamic football, and they now loom as a formidable hurdle. We know Wales can play much better than they did yesterday but they have to be merciless in picking the team that can produce the sharpness and authority we know they have.

Comments