Victory for Wales on Saturday came at a price as both Rhys Webb and Leigh Halfpenny were stretchered from the field during a scrappy, error-strewn encounter at the Millennium Stadium.
It has been confirmed tonight that Halfpenny will miss the Rugby World Cup having damaged his knee ligaments, and Wales will undoubtedly miss his metronomic goal-kicking and ferocious defending. It is arguably the absence of Webb, however, that could have the biggest impact on the squad, the lively scrum-half having been in scintillating form for both club and country all year.
The nature of Saturday’s narrow win over the Italians highlighted a number of key issues which need addressing if Wales are to emerge from the group stages of this world cup. Italy’s forward pack were largely dominant all afternoon, both at the breakdown and at scrum time. They caused a real nuisance, slowing ball down and causing broken play, preventing Wales from getting any real momentum. The number of handling errors was also a concern, as was Wales’ repeated inability to find that final pass to breach the whitewash – Scott Williams’ fine miss-pass to send George North over being the one exception.
Williams’ all round performance was one of the highlights of an otherwise largely frustrating afternoon for the home side. The Scarlets centre has raised his game an extra couple of notches in the absence of the brilliant Jonathan Davies, his sidestep proving dangerous and his passing pinpoint. I feel he could really excel in the coming weeks.
Ross Moriarty’s eye-catching break was also something to cheer about. The Gloucester back-rower may have been omitted from the World Cup Squad, but his scorching run through midfield left a trail of destruction and should have led to a try. I’m expecting to see a lot more from him in a red jersey in the near future.
Saturday’s victory at least affords Wales some momentum on which to build for their game against Uruguay, which is now less than two weeks away, and I can’t wait!
Meanwhile, in other Welsh rugby news…
The Pro 12 returned with a mixed bag of results for Wales’ regional teams. Ospreys were well beaten at the Kingspan stadium on Friday, when Ulster emerged 28-6 winners. The Dragons earned a losing bonus point on their trip to Connacht, while Scarlets held on for a famous win away against defending champions Glasgow. The weekend’s final match saw Cardiff Blues run riot over Zebre, scoring 11 tries in a 61-13 victory.
Nantymoel’s season began with a 38-24 defeat at home against Aberavon Green Stars. The ‘Moel will be looking to bounce back when they meet Maesteg Celtic away on 12th September.