Our best thinking is not driven by answers but by questions. Friday night’s game with England has raised questions aplenty. However, first it is important to emphasise that there is no shame in losing to England. They are a good side with strength in depth and are well coached. Well played.
In the aftermath of a limited Welsh performance that saw us out-thought, out-gunned and out-muscled, Warren summoned up all of his wisdom to proclaim, “we weren’t as accurate as we should have been, we put ourselves under a lot of pressure.”
This statement infuriated me. Once again Warren is only too happy to point to the players and heap blame onto them and away from himself and his coaching team. In the past 12 months, Warren has been tactically out thought by Joe Schmidt, Stuart Lancaster, Michael Cheika and Steve Hansen. After each game Warren spoke of, “individual errors.”
Rhys Webb has this morning (Sunday) stated that, “I am sure the boys will be looking forward to hitting the hell out of each other next week. We will get stuck into each other,” he said.
“We will look back at the videos and the boys will put their hands up. That’s where we are as a team – everyone will chip in and say their part.”
Everyone except Warren, Robin and Rob.
They don’t call Warren Cement Head for nothing. One of his strengths has been his unshakable self belief. It is the stability of approach that has turned us from a disorganised shamble into a competitive and respected (but not feared) side. That strength has become his weakness.
One of the problems with Warren’s game plan is that it breaks down if there are errors. This actively encourages players to play safe. The very reason you are not seeing the best of Jonathan Davies or Leigh Halfpenny. The very reason that Liam Williams, Scott Williams and Justin Tipuric do not play. They cannot be trusted. They do not conform. They are treated with suspicion.
The team selection for the game screams of a man who is too pig headed and stubborn to accept he needs to change and adapt. Leaving out Scott and Liam Williams looked utter folly on Monday (another one of Warren’s pointless backfiring mind games). Today, reflecting on a performance that lacked any form of spark or creativity, it simply looks like arrogant negligence. To add insult to injury, he refused to bring Liam or Tipuric on. Two players capable of changing the game remained rooted to the bench while the Mike Phillips (a pedestrian shadow of his former self) was sent on to attempt to add yet more route one impetus.
More mystifying was the reluctance to use Jamie Roberts. Jamie Roberts is at his most effective off first phase, set piece ball. In a game where you cannot use him in this way then, in attack, he becomes redundant. He cannot burst into life with a turn of pace or dazzling sidestep and turn bad ball into good. Liam can and so can Scott. 60 minutes into a game who would you rather be tackling? Jamie Roberts running straight at you from a standing start or the perpetual motion that is Liam or the spring, guile and explosiveness of Scott?
Many other questions spring to mind;
- Is Warren innovative enough at the top level?
- Does Warren really believe he has a competitive squad?
- How is Warren going to blood newcomers ahead of the World Cup?
- Why, seven and a half years after his appointment is our lineout still a lottery?
- Will Warren ever drop George North or Alex Cuthbert?
- Is form irrelevant?
Question. Questions. Questions. I suspect that Warren has very little interest in answering any of them. ‘Beasting’ them on Monday will sort this out.
The Crowd and Atmosphere
Another issue that sprung up in the aftermath of the game was the abusive, loutish behaviour of fans. Correspondents of the BBC and Western Mail were quick to highlight an atmosphere that verged on aggressive during a second half that England clinically controlled. The blame was laid at the door of irresponsible hooligans drinking too much and there is undoubtedly some truth in this.
However, once again the Teflon Don Roger Lewis appears exempt of criticism.
The man who has tied us in to ridiculous Friday evening games and 8pm kick offs. A time that encourages quick, heavy drinking post work or long drawn out all dayers. Please understand, I am not condoning such behaviour, merely being realistic given our society’s propensity to indulge in binge drinking.
The man who has driven the price of most tickets up to £80 in a country where the average wage is below £20,000 and has the lowest disposable income in the UK. Such prices only serve to discourage families and rugby fans attending and opt to watch the game on TV instead. Huge numbers of tickets ended up in the hands of touts and were passed on to English fans (rugby is very much a middle class sport over the border), to whom £100+ is a drop in the ocean.
The man who has turned the start of a game of rugby into a ridiculous, gaudy, overblown disco (I’m glad England refused to go out – I would have refused too), complete with fireworks and Bruno bloody Mars!
The Western Mail, now piously judging these vile drunkards, are not exempt from criticism. On Roger’s behest no doubt, they actively encouraged the Welsh fans to, “make even more noise” and produce a hostile, vitriolic atmosphere that would shake England to the core. The only thing that was shaking inside the stadium at full time were the Welsh team and the thousands of boozed up, disorientated Welsh fans.
A resounding defeat on the pitch and a misguided attempt to intimidate the English off it.
A triumph all round.
Scotland and France away await. This has the potential to turn ugly.
This article first appeared on The Scarlet Way blog.