In his second column for Talking Rugby Union, former Scarlets and Ospreys wing Tom Grabham writes how Wales have fared so far this Six Nations and what he expects to happen against France this weekend in Cardiff.
Playing Italy first up, with a new coaching staff, Wales performed really well. But the lesson is not getting carried away with that initial fixture. We played textbook rugby against Italy and we were only able to build up a nice lead because of Italian ill-discipline.
Then you look at the Ireland game and, obviously, it is a complete opposite. Away in Dublin, where, by my reckoning, Ireland have lost there once in the last seven years in the Six Nations. It is a pressure-pit of an arena and you have got to fire on all cylinders, doing everything well.
Just compared to Italy they struggled. The first kick-off led to a poor exit and the boys ended up defending an opposition scrum on our own line within five minutes of the game and straight away were up against it.
Ireland just kicked a lot better, managed the territory much better than Wales in that first 20 minutes and I think it was a big reason that they won the game overall. It was just a contrast. Seeing someone like Nick Tompkins performing so well against Italy, then he got a bit of a lesson up against the quite frankly world-class Robbie Henshaw, reminding us again that it is early days under a new coach.
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For example, the boys looked real narrow defensively. You could see that in the first couple of minutes and you instantly thought; if Ireland identify this quickly, we are going to be in trouble. I’m not sure if that happened because of poor exits, not getting that kick-chase right.
Having said that, the Aviva is a difficult place to go and win. Only championship-calibre teams go over and win in Ireland and that is not to say that Wales aren’t a championship-calibre side, I just think that under this new regime, they are still learning, and they will have learnt a lot from Dublin.
At times, we ironically didn’t get the luck of the Irish. With Parksey’s (Hadleigh Parkes) try, if that gets given, then we could be talking about an entirely different outlook for the France game. It will all be addressed and I’m sure they’ll be feeling fresh going into France.
All of the narrative coming into the game this weekend is obviously going to be about Shaun Edwards returning to Wales with France for the first time. Rightfully so as well. He likes aggressive defence, a lot of line speed, they will come hard, but Wales are equipped well to play in between that. The best way to nullify line speed is through attacking kicks and whilst the kicking wasn’t great in Ireland, at the Principality with a potentially closed roof, Biggs (Dan Biggar) and Tomos Williams manage that aspect of the game well.I’m sure that Shaun (Edwards) will have a bit of a chip on his shoulder coming back into Cardiff and that’s going to help it be a great game. Wales can play some brilliant attacking rugby and I think we will see even more attacking rugby now that Stephen Jones is attack coach.
France can do the same with Dupont and Ntamack pulling the strings there. We will see how it pans out. France have exciting players all over the pitch and they have had two good showings against Italy and England. They are playing exciting rugby, offloading a lot, consistently breaking the gainline, so as much as there will be a lot of defence talk, there will be some attacking flair in Cardiff.
Wales will be wanting to prove themselves in defence. You’d have to go back a while to see when they last conceded four tries, so I think that the defensive leaders in that team, Al (Alun Wyn Jones), Tips (Justin Tipuric), they will not be happy with how things went in Dublin. So, after two weeks of stewing over that, they are going to be well up for Saturday.
You could just end up seeing two defensively minded teams going at it in that game, each with the goal of nilling the other. It is going to be a good game, probably one that will dictate the outcome of the tournament. If France get a win, they are in a really strong place, if Wales pick up a win, then they are back in the mix. So, I’m really looking forward to it.
Tom Grabham spoke with TRUs Joe Harvey.