After a week off, Wales were back to competing with a World Cup warm-up match against Ireland. With Warren Gatland’s tenure finishing after the World Cup, this was his last game at the Principality Stadium, but his second string squad found themselves 3-15 down to an experimental Irish side at halftime, courtesy of a brace from Jacob Stockdale. A penalty try while Wales were down to 14 men saw Ireland extend the lead, before tries from Owen Lane and Rhys Patchell closed the gap to the eventual final score of 17-22. This result will see New Zealand take the #1 spot in the World Rugby rankings back, with Wales dropping back to 2ⁿᵈ.
I’ve never been the biggest fan of Tomas Francis, but in this match, he was seriously missed! Wales weren’t just second-best at the scrum, they were dominated! Leon Brown found himself up against a tighthead who was playing loosehead, but was still penalised at the majority of scrums, leading to him being given a yellow card after just 12 minutes on the pitch. Samson Lee came back on while Brown was in the bin, but even he couldn’t rectify the situation, while Rob Evans didn’t really fare any better on the other side. With such a dominance at the scrum, it was no surprise to see Ireland awarded the penalty try.
I understand at the moment there is a focus from many coaches to find front props who are dangerous in the loose, but the set piece is still a key component of the game. With the Australian scrum looking dangerous of late and the Georgians known for their forward dominance, Wales need to sort out their scrum quickly if they want to advance to the latter stages in Japan.
Before I move on, I just want to address Wales’ substitution during the yellow card period. With Brown going off, Wales had to sacrifice a player to bring Samson Lee back onto the field in order to complete the front row. Despite the scrum struggling, Wales chose to remove flanker James Davies. This meant that Wales were occasionally packing down with 7 men, or bringing in centre Owen Watkin on the flank. While Watkin did an admirable job, it was clear he had no idea what he was meant to be doing and for that reason, I don’t understand why he wasn’t removed (or one of the wingers) and Davies left on, which would have given the scrum more cohesion. I can understand no wanting to go a man down in the back line, but they were doing that anyway by putting Watkin into the scrum, while Davies is a highly mobile player and has high level experience of playing rugby 7s. He has even played the majority of a game on the wing for a 14-man Scarlets team. If I was looking for someone to be a hybrid flanker/centre/wing, then I would pick Davies over any of the backs on the pitch.
The old adage is that “form is temporary, class is permanent”. Jacob Stockdale proved that over the last 2 weeks. The Ulster winger shot onto the international scene with his regular try-scoring exploits, but has gone through a somewhat fallow period. With the Irish inside defence not working well last week, Stockdale came in for criticism for flying up to try the man-and-ball tackle when facing the overlap. This week, he looked much better defensively as Ireland dealt with the Welsh attack and looked much more confident in attack. Andrew Conway could have probably finished the first try himself, but Stockdale did the right thing to get up in support and was given the chance to get on the scoresheet, while his second try was a great opportunistic moment as he picked up the loose pass from Aaron Shingler and outpaced the turning Welsh defence to score. Every time he carried in this match, he looked dangerous and it appears he may be getting back to top form at just the right time.
RWC2019 Winner & Losers
While I didn’t think Jarrod Evans had a poor game in the first half, the impact that Rhys Patchell had after coming on at halftime was immense. He controlled the game well and appeared to expand the attack, including scoring one of the tries himself. Able to cover 10 or 15, he has to make it onto the plane off the back of this performance, though whether than is instead of or as well as Evans is a matter for debate. If we assume that Leigh Halfpenny, George North, Liam Williams and Josh Adams are all guaranteed spots on the plane, it is likely that the back 3 in this match were competing for a maximum of 2 places. Owen Lane has had a horrible luck with injuries ruling him out of making his debut until this match, but he performed very well, looking decent on defence and having a good impact on the attack, including the first try. Moving over to the men in green, Dave Kilcoyne looked one of the best players on the pitch until he was removed, making a huge impact in open play both offensively and defensively. His replacement at loosehead, Andrew Porter, was unstoppable at the scrum, causing no end of problems for Leon Brown and Samson Lee. Usually a tighthead, this proof of his versatility may have just guaranteed him a place in the squad.
Staying in the front row for a moment, Leon Brown‘s torrid time in the scrums and lack of impact to make up for it around the park may have just seen him miss out on a place in the Welsh squad. With Aaron Shingler’s return to fitness, James Davies‘ removal during Brown’s sin bin period suggests that he will miss out on a spot in a Welsh back row that is still deep despite injuries to Taulupe Faletau and Ellis Jenkins. For Ireland, Devin Toner‘s chances of making the squad may rely on the competency of World Rugby an the citing officer after a challenge reminiscent of that which earned Scott Barrett a red card and 4-week ban. With Peter O’Mahony looking equally good at 7 as 6 and Tadhg Beirne and Iain Henderson both able to cover 6 and lock, it may be that Jordi Murphy will find himself surplus to requirements when Joe Schmidt names his squad.
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