Wales' Warrenball 'too predictable'

Sun, 16 Mar 2014 08:51
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Warren Gatland accepts he will have to change his tactics if Wales are to return to the summit of European rugby.

Warren Gatland accepts he will have to change his tactics if Wales are to return to the summit of European rugby.

Wales finished the Six Nations with a record 51-3 mauling of Scotland at the Millennium Stadium at the weekend after the visitors were a man down for nearly an hour following the sending off of fullback Stuart Hogg.

But away defeats by eventual champions Ireland (26-3) and runners-up England (29-18) dashed Wales' hopes of what would have been a record third successive outright Six Nations title.

They also raised questions about whether Wales coach Gatland's preferred method of play - the so-called 'Warrenball' - was now too predictable.

For a long time the Southern Hemisphere's leading nations have dominated Wales, who've suffered 18 consecutive defeats by New Zealand, South Africa and Australia since beating the Wallabies in 2008.

These are worrying figures given Wales will embark on a two-Test tour of South Africa in June and are in the same 2015 World Cup "group of death" as Australia and hosts England.

Now it seems Ireland and England have also rumbled Wales' penchant for downfield kicking in a bid to force ruck penalties - a tactic that has proved less rewarding since tackle area laws were altered to favour the attacking team.

"What we learned from this tournament is that a lot of teams aren't playing any rugby against us so we are going to have to change and deal with that," said Gatland, who led the British and Irish Lions to a 2-1 series win in Australia last year.

"They've employed pretty successful kicking strategies. The two games we lost, both teams kicked more than we did, particularly Ireland who played a lot of one-pass rugby and tried to negate a lot of our strengths."

Reflecting on the Six Nations as a whole, the New Zealander added: "We've set massive expectations upon ourselves.

"In the last three years we've won 12 out of 15 [Six Nations] games. I don't think that is a bad record in this competition for a small country like Wales with such a small playing base as well.

"But there is no-one harder than we are on ourselves."

As for a tour of South Africa where Wales are set to be without both captain Sam Warburton and full-back Leigh Halfpenny because of shoulder injuries suffered against Scotland and England respectively, Gatland said: "We are looking potentially at a midweek game against Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth.

"We know how tough a place it [South Africa] is."

Wales were well on top against Scotland even before scoring six of their seven tries after Hogg was sent off by French referee Jerome Garces for smashing his shoulder into the face of fly-half Dan Biggar.

A miserable day for Scotland had already taken a turn for the worse when captain Kelly Brown went off in the eighth minute with a head injury.

Liam Williams, in for Halfpenny, dived in at the left corner while the match was still 15-a-side before Hogg became only the third Scotland player and first since Scott Murray, against Wales in 2006, to be sent off in a Test.

Try-doubles from George North and Jamie Roberts followed with No 8 Taulupe Faletau and replacement Rhodri Williams also crossing Scotland's line.

Defeat meant Scotland coach Scott Johnson, who will remain the Scottish Rugby Union's Director of Rugby, bowed out with a record of just five wins from 16 Tests in charge of the Dark Blues.

"He's been good to us and he deserved a lot better," said Scotland scrum-half Greig Laidlaw, who kicked the visitors into a 3-0 lead before the floodgates opened.

Former Wales boss Johnson, who hands over the Scotland coaching reins to New Zealand's Vern Cotter, refused to pillory Hogg.

"Stuart might be many things but he certainly isn't a dirty player, that's for sure," Johnson said.

The Australian also tried to take the edge of this hammering by saying: "I won't question the character of the boys, I just won't do it.

"They're tough lads and their character is undeniable."

AFP

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Team P W D L Pts
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Wales 5 2 0 3 10
Italy 5 0 0 5 0