Sometimes a win is enough. Sometimes being pretty and winning the hearts and minds of others is off the agenda.
The players’ elation and transparent relief at the final whistle was noticeable. It was not a classic test match in terms of quality. The two teams went at it like a couple of punch-drunk sluggers rather than skirting around the issue and landing the odd stinger. Enthralling enough in its own way, but not one for the annals.
Looking at the Welsh performance, it seemed like a very back-to-basics, narrow game plan: good line-speed; a lot of two-man tackling; let Ryan Jones, Tipuric and Jenkins slow down the ball; keep the fringe defence tight and not allow any runners through the middle; wait for a turnover/mistake; Biggar to kick in behind; play in French territory only, and use the big boys up the middle and just eke everything out. And it worked. France’s inability to execute a largely similar game plan was the difference between two sides low on confidence.
My take on the individual performances:
Gethin – Never renowned for his scrummagging, he struggled against Mas more than he usually does. That said, his overall performance compared to last week was a vast improvement. Won two penalties and one turnover in the first half with his jackling skills. Any kids watching should take a look at Gethin’s body positions if they want to learn how to slow down and steal ball at the breakdown.
Hibbard – Looks like Shane Warne has let himself go. Didn’t bring his regional form to the international stage as he’s usually a very good close-quarter carrier, but the line out was solid. The only two Welsh scrums which went forward all night were due to Hibbard managing to split Mas and Szarzewski. Good enough to keep his place.
Adam – Last week he was perhaps unfortunate that the other side of the scrum was being refereed. This week he was unfortunate that his side was being looked at as he struggled to get to grips with both Forestier and Debaty. If there weren’t such a paucity of decent tight head props around, he might be worried about making the Lions tour. As it is, they’ll probably take three tight heads and he’ll sneak in on reputation. His general play, particularly as the pillar at rucks, was his usual good, unspectacular self. Needs to improve over the rest of this tournament.
Coombs – Last week he put in a good effort but looked a bit green; this week he didn’t look out of place at all. Being a converted back-rower means he’s not going to be a huge help packing behind Gethin but he did all the dirty work that you want from your tight-five players. Couple of line out takes, nine carries and fourteen tackles equals a good shift in anyone’s book. Will keep his place while AWJ is eased back into the team.
Evans – Arguably his best game in a Welsh shirt. I was critical of him taking contact too upright last week, but his close carrying was much better this time around. His pick-and-go which led to the North try was vital yards gained in a match as tight as this. Varied the line out calls more than I thought he would and managed to get his Mr Ticklesque arms in to disrupt some powerful French mauling. High tackle count, too. Big shift.
Ryan Jones – Did everything – and that little bit more – you want your blindside to do: carried the crap, slow ball and presented it well; made his tackles; got into a scrap with one of the French forwards; put in a little kick deep into the French 22 (eat your heart out, every 12 in the Six Nations); won a couple of turnovers; dived on a couple of loose balls; shared a joke with Dusuatoir; led by example. Always composed, never flustered. It’s no coincidence that Wales always play better when he’s on the field.
Tipuric – Top tackler, top line out winner, worked hard to slow down French ball at the breakdown, made a couple of important links to keep momentum going. Isn’t powerful at the contact area, but he’s an intelligent enough player to use good footwork to take contact on his own terms. He usually focuses on going lower – completing the tackle being more important than winning that mini-battle. A good player who’ll win a lot of caps. The shirt should be his, for now at least.
Faletau – The quietest of the back rowers, he’s always less noticeable when Wales play as narrow as they did on Saturday. Much more effective when used as a wider carrier, but he did a manful job on the whole. Let Huget get around the outside on one occasion in the first half, but managed to prevent Fofana from doing the same in the second. Nowhere near his capabilities, but part of a gutsy effort.
Coming very soon to a Hask blog near you, Part 2, with yosoy’s thoughts on the Welsh backs and … those much maligned coaches.