Let’s hear it for the Welsh defence! Another awesome display by the red wall ensured Alun Wyn Jones not only lifted the Doddie Weir Cup, but also provided Wales an opening Autumn win for the first time since 2002.
Now they’ve got to up their game to take on, and hopefully finally beat, the Australia this weekend. However flawed a performance it was against Scotland, who were equally as rusty as Wales, I’m far more convinced now we can end that run of 13 successive defeats to the tiresome Wallabies because the players have got a full, tough 80 minutes under their belts.
When you look at Wales in the autumn, they historically get better as the month goes on. The longer they spend together, the more cohesive the performances become. Four times in the past eight years the game against the Wallabies has been first up in the series.
They’ve waltzed over here battled hardened and together after the Rugby Championship and very much in sync. This time, the boot may well be on the other foot.
Michael Cheika’s men will have had a two week break from playing, but they will come up against a Welsh side with a game and three weeks of training behind them.
I think that could be vital, especially if the crowd get behind Wales and add to the bite and intensity of the occasion. Given that the next time we will meet them will be for real at the 2019 World Cup in Japan, wouldn’t it be great if we gave them to something to worry about for the next 12 months?
To do that our attack will have to be far more precise, the kicking game from half-back will need to be much better, and we’ll need to secure much quicker ball. There was no surprise the Scots were able to slow down a lot of our possession. With Michael Hooper and David Pocock to face this weekend, it could be an even harder task to free up the ball.
But we all saw what the Welsh back line is capable of given a bit of space and time. Those tries from George North and Jonathan Davies epitomised what we can do. There was power from George as he ploughed his way through three Scottish defenders and then pace from Jonathan as he said ‘Bye bye’ to Huw Jones with the perfect fend and turn of acceleration.
Two world class attackers in one back division. It’s just mouth-watering! It also means we have to get the ball to them quicker and more often.
The move that paved the way for Jonathan’s try was straight off the training ground and showed what Gareth Anscombe is all about. He put his centre through a gap with some deft handling and his distribution throughout was top notch. He said earlier in the week that he wanted to lay down a marker for the No 10 jersey. In my eyes, he did just that.
Will he play this week against the Wallabies? It is a big call for Warren Gatland to make, but I think I’d give him another shot to try to build on this victory. Warren always talks about momentum and I think keeping the same half-backs would be a sensible move.
You can then utilise Dan Biggar and Rhys Patchell, when he is fit to return, in the games against Tonga and South Africa. Perhaps Dan can be given his big shot against the Springboks.
There is no doubt Anscombe gives you a better attacking option than Biggar, but my old Ospreys team-mate is still the king in the air and has the best all-round kicking and defensive game of all the playmaker options Warren has at his disposal. He still has a huge part to play in the next 12 months even though he is playing outside of Welsh regional rugby at Northampton.
What the win over the Scots will give the players more than anything is a reference point as they seek to break that depressing run against Australia. The video of the game, alongside the stats, will tell them exactly where they need to improve. They haven’t had that in the past.
Just look at the list of defeats on the opening day of the autum; four against Australia, three against South Africa, two against New Zealand, and one against Argentina. There was also a draw against the Wallabies.
Warren has always said that the longer the team spends together, the better it becomes. Is three weeks together, with a game behind them, long enough to match the Aussies? I reckon it could be!
It looks as though Samson Lee won’t be fit enough to start, but Tomas Francis will come back in to back up Dillon Lewis. I thought Dillon was superb against the Scots by the way. He more than proved his point on the tight head.
Ellis Jenkins should also be fit to return to compete for a back-row place, although Justin Tipuric shone like a beacon with his all-round master class at No 7. To show you how good he was, he even got more headlines than the skipper Alun Wyn!
The forwards need to take the physical supremacy they enjoyed against the Scots up another level this weekend to ensure the Wallabies don’t get front foot ball.
Let’s face it, the last thing we want to see is Kurtley Beale running all over the place yet again. Keep them tied in up front, and tied down behind, and I think we are good enough to beat them. Then we can start talking about the first possible clean-sweep in the autumn this century.
I know the Springboks will be smarting after three successive defeats to Wales, and will be hurting like hell after their one-point defeat to England at Twickenham, but they and Tonga are both eminently beatable by this Welsh squad.
But at the same time, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
There is a lot of build on from the win over the Scots, but also a lot to be improved. We will be better on Saturday. The only question is, how much? And will it be enough?
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