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Williams column: The one player who can give Wales hope against the All Blacks

By Shane Williams

There is no denying it, that was a truly awful game of rugby. Scrum drama at the end of the game was the main talking point and while I can understand that being the case, it shouldn’t hide the fact Wales produced a poor performance.

I was very disappointed by what I saw, especially because I was actually pretty positive about the start of the game and the early try from Hallam Amos. The match then disintegrated.

It was a really poor watch for the neutral. Yes, Georgia played well and their scrum was incredibly impressive, but as a former pint-sized winger I’ll concentrate on the performance as a whole.

Frankly, it wasn’t good enough.

The early stages impressed me from a Welsh viewpoint. As against Australia, we looked to play with width and get the ball moving. Rhys Webb’s early tap and go was evidence of that and I thought Hallam Amos’ score was a great team effort.

Rhys Priestland – who I thought had a decent game – played the starring role. I liked the way he looped around off Scott Williams and his long pass to Amos was spot on.

It’s plays like that which have been missing from the Welsh set-up for too long. It was innovative thinking from a set-piece and was rewarded.

More of that, please!

Warren Gatland talked about “the many positives”. The biggest one will have been the lessons learned by such as Adam Beard, Leon Brown, Seb Davies, Sam Cross and Owen Watkin. They’ve been in an international arm-wrestle and will be all the better for it. They’ve also been on a winning team, which counts.

Given that this time last year Beard, Davies, Brown and Watkin were in the Principality Premiership, it just shows how far they’ve come. Gatland has talked about building strength in depth and that is exactly what this autumn is all about. When Elliot Dee came on he became the 13th new cap in the last six months. Over the previous two years, I doubt there’s been more than a handful.

Getting up to speed at this level is what it is all about. Training can’t do it, talking about it doesn’t help, only playing on the international stage can teach you what you need to know.

So mark this game down as an invaluable experience for some we are likely to hear a lot more about although I don’t expect many of those who faced Georgia will be called on this weekend against the All Blacks.

Webb will definitely start and I think Amos is worthy of his place. Dan Lydiate showed he is nearing his best and I liked the guts and drive shown by Seb Davies, albeit slightly out of position in the back row.

So, on to New Zealand. How are we going to take them on? That’s the question people have been asking me and I’m not sure I have the answer.

We saw in the summer how good they are and the Lions did brilliantly to share the series. There is, though, one ray of hope – Justin Tipuric.

He’s been a massive miss so far this autumn, especially with Sam Warburton and Ross Moriarty injured. With the new style of play Wales are trying to implement, Tipuric is going to be a key, key figure. The way he plays the game will fit in perfectly with Gatland’s new plan of attack as the link between backs and forwards.

Red star: Shane Williams says a big performance by Justin Tipuric is Wales’ main hope of being competitive against New Zealand when they meet (photo: Getty Images)

Of course, given his thigh problem it is a risk to throw him straight back against the world’s best side. But I don’t think that will perturb Gatland.

We need Justin to be at his all-action best if we’re going to beat the All Blacks and contrary to what most will say, I believe Wales have a chance.

If you look at New Zealand, they were run close by Scotland and in my opinion if they can do it, why can’t we? That’s the attitude the boys need to take into camp ahead of the game.

Without belief you’ve got nothing so that’s the first box to tick. After that it’s about eradicating the basic errors we produced against Georgia.

I’m sure Gatland will be formulating a game plan already. After the Lions he obviously knows a great deal about the All Blacks already. They’ve changed slightly since the summer, but while they are clearly still the best side around, like any team they do have some weaknesses.

Scotland gave them a real scare by playing vibrant, positive rugby and that’s what Wales need to do. With that in mind I think it’s understandable that Owen Williams will return at centre with Dan Biggar at fly-half. There’s a tough call at scrum-half. I thought Rhys Webb injected tempo against Georgia while Gareth Davies was excellent in defeat to Australia.

For me, Webb just edges that one on the back of big-game experience.

I’d also like to see Wales keep Scott Williams at 13, with Jonathan Davies out injured, and bombard Damian McKenzie with the high ball.

McKenzie is a dangerous attacker, but I’d target him in defence with big kicks in the central area. With Owen Williams and Biggar, Wales have the personnel to do that, but their kicking game has to be absolutely spot on.

So we go in against the All Blacks on the back of a poor performance, but I’m ever the optimist and with our big guns back there’s a big job for Wales to do. It can be done, now it’s time to show it!

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