If you ever feel bored or in need of a quick rugby fix, highlights of the Scarlets 2016-17 Pro14 winning season will do the trick. This side, coached by current Wales boss Wayne Pivac, played rugby at its flamboyant finest. Inventive offloads and perfectly ran support lines gave Scarlets the ability to play from anywhere as they lit up an otherwise boring league with length of the field tries.
Since taking over as Wales head coach, Pivac has attempted to implement this aesthetic style of rugby with little success, winning just three of his ten matches in charge.
The Welsh public is becoming disillusioned with their national team for both the number and the nature of their losses as Wales have put in some character-lacking performances, the likes of which were unheard of during the Gatland era. Most notable among these was a 32-9 loss to Ireland against whom Wales will kick off their Six Nations campaign on Sunday.
This Six Nations is an opportunity for Wales to regain lost public trust with better performances. To achieve this, however, they will have to improve significantly in a few areas.
One underlying cause of Wales’ failures under Pivac has been their front five players. In both their set piece competency and their phase play physicality, Wales front and second row fall short of their Six Nations counterparts, except for Italy.
This lack of front five explosiveness is perhaps the biggest difference between Pivac’s Scarlets and Pivac’s Wales, generating success for the former and failure for the latter. The return from injury of 77 cap stalwart hooker Ken Owens will bolster Wales in this department, but whether Wales’ tight five can compete with the dynamism of the likes of England’s Maro Itoje and Ireland’s Tadhg Furlong is still in doubt.
Wales have a lot of talent in their backs. Jon Davies continues to be world class and Nick Tompkins and Johnny Williams have been excellent finds to accompany him in the centres. In Gareth Davies Wales probably have the most threatening nine in the tournament bar French superstar Antoine Dupont. Meanwhile in the back three Josh Adams, Liam Williams, Leigh Halfpenny and more recently Louis Reece-Zammit have been thrilling and dangerous.
Fly half, though, is a position of concern. To execute Pivac’s fast paced and pass-heavy brand of rugby Wales need inventive playmakers. The two tens who best fit this description are both currently injured – Gareth Anscombe and Rhys Patchell, who pulled the strings for Scarlets during their title win.
In their place it has been left to Dan Biggar to don the famous 10 jersey for Wales. A ruthless match winner, Biggar is an exceptionally talented player, but his skillset is not suited to Pivac’s game plan. The other options at ten in Wales’ squad are Bristol’s Callum Sheedy and Cardiff’s Jarrod Evans. Both are perhaps more attacking-minded than Biggar, but their inexperience will mean they will spend most of the campaign on the side lines.
With the quality and power France and England have, Wales are very unlikely to win the Six Nations. However, Pivac’s team can win back the faith of the Welsh public. Fans would obviously like Wales to win more games, but for now I think we just want to see them play well again. We should remember that it took Pivac three years to turn the Scarlets from a mid-table side to champions. If we afford him the same kind of patience, in a few years our antidote for boredom could be highlights Welsh rugby under Pivac.
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