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Coaches have to take some blame

By South Wales Evening Post  |  Posted: February 08, 2013

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THERE have been plenty of statements right out of the Ministry of the Bleeding Obvious in the wake of Wales's defeat to Ireland.

A common one has been: "We need to start better."

Really?

I have revisited the match many times and believe me, there was a lot more to pick out of that loss than just not starting well.

I will begin with the so-called "choke tackle" employed so expertly by the Irish from the word go.

In the opening minutes Andrew Coombs — who had a fine debut despite my reservations about his selection — took the ball into contact, was held up and had the ball stripped away.

As the match wore on, the same happened to Ian Evans, Jamie Roberts and Matthew Rees.

The "choke tackle" is not a new innovation here. Ireland have been using it for some time and the Wales coaching team would have been well aware it was coming.

Yet still Welsh ball-carriers ran upright, ball tucked under the arm into waiting Irish jerseys. It was like ripping candy from a baby.

Wales backs coach Mark Jones has talked this week about the breakdown letting the side down at the Millennium Stadium.

To be honest, breakdown is a pretty apt word to use because that is what is happening to Welsh attacks the moment they head into contact.

I was watching the Irish defenders and they were waiting, arms down, ready to keep Welsh carriers off the floor.

Think

When this is happening you need players to think on their feet, look for space, change the direction of attack, use the fend, a hand-off in the face or get your arms through the tackle and look to offload.

Our management of the contact area was woeful and the coaches have got to shoulder much of the blame for that.

The other thing linked to that is innate rugby intelligence.

The difference between the sides in terms of vision — or lack of it on the Welsh part — rugby nous and basic skills was embarrassing.

We could not finish off three-on-twos, even basic two-on-ones.

Contrast that to how Brian O'Driscoll, faced with three Welsh jerseys for Ireland's opening try managed to put Simon Zebo away without a hand laid on the winger.

Alex Cuthbert was all at sea for that try and remains very much a work in progress. Cuthbert is a strong attacking weapon and ran a good angle for his try, but there are a lot of rough edges to his game, particularly in defence.

Another thing I noticed was that in the build-up to the second try, when Rory Best charged down Dan Biggar — after the hooker ambled for the first five yards — only Sam Warburton out of the forwards scrambled back for the defensive ruck. It left Mike Phillips exposed to the charge of Cian Healey and we all know what happened next. It was staggering how few people got back.

Yet for all of Wales's flaws, we could still, incredibly, have won the game in the second half, even if it would have been wholly undeserved.

Any side who goes 30-3 up in international rugby will feel that the job is done and I sense Ireland did lose focus and take their foot off the gas.

I hasten to say that it's not all doom and gloom and there were encouraging signs in that second period.

Much of that revolved around Justin Tipuric's arrival.

Regular readers of this column will know how much of a fan I am of the Ospreys openside, and he presented an overwhelming case to be involved in Paris tomorrow, regardless of the unfortunate shoulder injury to Sam Warburton.

It is also great to see Richard Hibbard in there at hooker.

He is a player who doesn't leave anything on the pitch and the kind of forward Wales need in the middle of what promises to be an abrasive battle up front.

Paul James can count himself unfortunate not to have earned the nod over Gethin Jenkins, while Ryan Jones's leadership skills and experience will be welcome.

I didn't expect any changes behind the scrum and keeping Biggar at fly-half is, I feel, the right call. But if things don't go well for the Osprey at the Stade de France, then the clamour for James Hook to be given a chance will get louder.

To me, there always seems to be a reason not to pick Hook at ten and to give him just seven minutes at the end was ridiculous.

What could he have done in seven minutes?

I expect France will be too strong tomorrow, but they remain an enigma.

It was a magnificent match in Rome last weekend and I was delighted that Italy claimed another notable Six Nations scalp.

How will France react?

You don't really know whether there will be a kick-back or whether they just shrug their Gallic shoulders and play the same way with very little rugby.

They are certainly not amounting to the sum of their parts at present, especially when you consider how strong their clubs have been in the Heineken Cup this season.

It has been a magnificent start to the tournament, with three great games to savour.

Let's hope we have another in Paris — but this time with the right result.

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