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Williams column: Keep the faith, Wales are showing promise

Wales head coach Wayne Pivac

FIRST things first, it was the right decision to postpone Wales against Scotland in the Six Nations. The health of people comes far ahead of a game of rugby.

But while the sporting perspective on things isn’t that important with the coronavirus taking hold, Wayne Pivac will be disappointed the game didn’t take place.

It means the end of the Six Nations – for now – and it does feel like a bit of a damp squib. There have been ups and downs in the campaign from a Welsh perspective, but ultimately it has been underwhelming in terms of results.

Three defeats from four games isn’t great. We all know Wales are rebuilding and Wayne is trying to stamp his mark on the team.

We also all know that it will take time to bear fruit and I think most Wales fans who understand the game would have been realistic and understand away games in Ireland and England were always going to be tough going.

That proved to be the case and the added blow was losing to France at home. The other game in Cardiff saw Wales thrash Italy in what ultimately proved to be a false dawn. If this sounds negative then let me point out I am not too down in the dumps. I’m excited by where Wales are going. The end result could well be hugely promising.

I had a chat with Wayne and his attack coach, my former team-mate Stephen Jones, before the England game and they are happy with the progress the team are making and the direction in which they’re heading.

That provides me with reassurance because Wales have two top coaches at the helm who know what they are doing.

Wayne and Stephen had a great deal of success with the Scarlets, but what people don’t tend to remember is that it took time for the team to get going in west Wales. The same thing will happen with Wales at Test level.

It is funny really because the France game was probably the biggest disappointment for most Wales fans, but that was not the game where I was most underwhelmed. I was not happy with the performance in Ireland and the players have admitted it was a bad day at the office. They happen.

Wales centre Nick Tompkins
Flattered: Nick Tompkins tries to find a way through the England defence. Getty Images

At Twickenham, Wales were dominated by England physically and a three-point margin between the teams flattered the visitors.

But against France I actually thought Wales played well. They created plenty of opportunities – they just did not take them and Romain Ntamack’s interception try was ultimately the difference between the sides on the day.

On another day Nick Tompkins’ pass goes to a red shirt and not a blue and Wales score a try. Of course it is then a totally different game.

While I mention Nick he was the biggest positive from the tournament for me in terms of individuals.

No one knew Nick could play for Wales before the campaign, but he has been really promising on the whole. In many ways I think Nick’s campaign summed up the team’s as a whole.

He had some very good moments, but also some lapses in concentration and he is still learning at this level. In many ways, those things apply to Wales too.

I think everyone would agree Nick is a player worth persevering with and Wales fans need to have the same patience with their team.

What I like about Tompkins is his resilience. That’s aside from his obvious qualities. I was critical of him for his performance in Dublin, especially in the first half when he struggled. But to his credit he bounced back very impressively, never hid away, and kept going. He will benefit hugely from his first taste of international rugby and be a big asset in the future.

While Ireland was a disappointing game for Wales, the Aviva Stadium clash did produce the one standout moment for me from a Welsh perspective.

Tomos Williams’ try in Dublin was exactly the sort of rugby Wayne wants to play with Wales. It was brilliant to watch.

Wales moved the ball from side to side and with ease. Wayne wants to get his ball playing forwards involved in the game in the wide channels and in the Dublin case it was Alun Wyn Jones. No one reading this needs me to tell them how good a player and leader Alun Wyn is, but his handling skills are often underrated. He showed his class in that area with a lovely pass out of the tackle and it allowed Dan Biggar to combine with Tomos for the score.

It was a fine team try, but the shame was we didn’t see more of them. Wales created so many chances like that and in time a greater percentage of those opportunities will be converted. That’s the plan, anyway!

Wales’ players are enjoying Wayne’s set-up and as a head coach I think he is still sussing them out. That’s fair enough as it is early days, but soon enough he will have to settle on the men he sees as first choice.

At scrum-half he’s had a look at Tomos, Gareth Davies and Rhys Webb. Rhys’ return to the starting XV never materialised with the Scotland game postponed and I’m sure he’ll be gutted about that.

Wales scrum-half Rhys Webb
Left to wait: Rhys Webb didn’t get the chance tob make his first start for Wales in almost three years against the Scots. Stu Forster/Getty Images

The same can be said for WillGriff John who I was looking forward to seeing at prop. At loosehead Wayne selected Wyn Jones and Rob Evans and clearly likes Rhys Carre, but after a while the experimentation will have to end.

Having a solid team in terms of consistency in selection will also help the players adapt to the new style.

I think Wayne will carry on having a look at his options this summer, especially in the planned Test against Japan. There are then the two games with New Zealand.

If the All Blacks Tests do happen they will obviously be tough going. If Wales lose those two matches their poor run will extend and then they’ll have a very tough autumn with Fiji, Argentina, New Zealand and world champions South Africa to face. There will also be the rearranged Six Nations game with Scotland at around that time. It will make for an incredibly tough campaign.

There are also the seedings for the 2023 World Cup to think about. The draw for that tournament will take place based on the world rankings as they stand after November, so Wales need to have a good autumn to avoid a really tough pool.

If you remember they were drawn in the group of death for the 2015 World Cup and that only happened because of the poor autumn they had in 2012.

Of course Wales did qualify from their pool in 2015, but the bottom line is you want the easiest route possible.

It’s an uncertain time for rugby and life as a whole at the moment and no one knows how the coronavirus is going to impact both our day to day lives and the sport we love. Looking ahead Wales have winnable games coming up against Japan, Argentina and Fiji and it is still an exciting time despite the Six Nations not living up to expectations.

This is a team with promise. Keep the faith.

SHANE WILLIAMS

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