Wales slipped to defeat in the second test against the All Blacks in Wellington on Saturday, handing the hosts a series victory with one game remaining.
It was another early morning on Saturday, and I remained hopeful lessons could be learned from the first test. On reflection, it’s difficult to asses exactly where this Wales team currently stands, or indeed whether there was any real improvement in performance. Furthermore, an improved All Blacks showing makes judgement of Wales even more difficult to pin down.
There are a few key talking points from the game:
- Wales continued to attack for 80 minutes. This was a must after last week’s game, where we were restricted to defending in the closing quarter. It’s clear the ABs edge out Wales in terms of fitness also, although I feel we are not too far behind. It was pleasing to see resolve in attack in the closing stages, and it paid dividends, with Liam Williams and Jonathan Davies both touching down in the final ten minutes.
- Rhys Patchell put on an assured display in his first ever test start. He was competitive in the air, and showed some dazzling footwork. Given the magnitude of the challenge New Zealand provides, he gave a superb account of himself and, I feel, really staked his claim for a full back berth in the Wales team going forward.
- Our defence needs to be tightened. The first All Blacks try came as a result of defending too deep, and Jon Davies running out of the line. Amos and Patchell had no chance because there was a huge overlap. We have been leaking tries in the last few test games, and pundits are starting to ask questions of defence guru Shaun Edwards. However, perhaps this says more of the calibre of opposition Wales have faced – a strong, rejuvenated England, and the two-times world champions, no less.
- It has been said that Wales are trying to “evolve” their style of play – not just to overcome the All Blacks, but also to become stronger moving forward. Sam Warburton pointed out an a post match interview that the team has “surprised ourselves” with how comfortable they have been with the ball in hand. Wales had the lion’s share of territory and possession on Saturday, but as we know, the most important statistic is on the scoreboard. If Wales continue to be bold in attack, and can develop a ruthless, cutting edge, they have a real chance of winning the final test in Dunedin.
In other rugby news, Scotland laboured to a 26-13 victory in Japan, while Ireland surrendered a 19-3 half-time lead to lose to South Africa, taking their three-test series down to the wire. Italy also scraped past the United States, while France were comfortably beaten by Argentina.
Meanwhile, England move up to second place in the world rankings with a 23-7 demolishing of Australia. They have won the test series with one game remaining, and seem to be setting the standard for the northern hemisphere and present. Their lauded second-row partnership of George Kruis and Maro Itoje is already being touted as a shoe-in for next summer’s British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand.
Speaking of which, the Head Coach role for that tour will be decided in August, with Warren Gatland supposedly still the first choice. Many also see Ireland’s Joe Schmit or Scotland’s Vern Cotter as viable options (I understand that Eddie Jones will not be considered for some reason).
If Wales can turn things around this week, a victory on Saturday would surely make Gatland favourite for the role.