Phillips – He makes poor decisions too often to be a reliable attacking or controlling scrum-half, but what he lacks in that area he more than makes up for with his physical presence. A couple of powerful runs, his usual muscular self as a defender (tearing back to stop and strip the ball off Picamoles being the highlight). Some good kicks, some bad ones. He was well up for it on the weekend. I suppose his performance is a microcosm of the Welsh one: flawed, powerful, dogged.
Biggar – He’s not taking an axe to the door of Lions selections, but he is showing signs of growing into the team. His line kicking was top drawer putting his forwards 40 metres downfield each time. His kicking game, overall, was patchier: a couple out on the full; up-and-unders generally a bit too far; one weird one off the outside of his boot; but interspersed with some good kicks. The little dink for North’s try was beautifully weighted. Still some question marks about his defence, if not his commitment. Once he begins to get more comfortable with his surroundings, we should see him begin to be his more vocal Osprey self. Got a nice hug of his Mam after the match, too.
North – Jizzbucket, God, Overrated, English… call him what you want but he’s a very good player for a 20 year-old. Saw little ball but an average of 6 metres gained per touch tells us that he makes and breaks the gainline more often than not. By no means the finished article, he still struggles with kicks in behind (there was only the one in this match) and his timing at hitting a line is variable, but his strengths largely outweigh his weaknesses. The try was superbly taken. There was no room for error with such little space to work in. Terrific athletic and footballing ability to score.
Roberts – Solid defensive channel, the glue of every good defensive effort. There were even some tentative signs that Wales may be trying to use him a little differently. On three occasions he was used as a link and North as the inside runner off him. The timing was off on two of them but there has always been more to his game than running very hard in a straight line. Cried on Welsh TV, too.
Davies – See Roberts. You don’t become a bad player overnight. Kept his passes simple, even putting Halfpenny through a gap off his (shriek!) left hand. Sound as he usually is in defence. Unfussy performance. Good to see.
Cuthbert – No real defensive howlers this week. Not really a game for wingers to show their wares but he manned up and made some hard yards when required. He’s played almost as many test matches as he has games for his region and the international stage is an unforgiving place to be doing most of your learning. All in all, a fair effort.
Halfpenny – One charged-down kick aside, pretty flawless. Mr Reliably High Standards.
Replacements – Owens made a couple of decent carries, James made no difference to the scrum and Lloyd Williams looked lively in his short cameo. Others had no time to impress.
Coaches – Howley can justifiably say he got his selection right (even if Ryan Jones was originally slated for the bench before Warburton’s injury) and deserves a little bit of breathing space after mustering up the first win in 9 matches.
Defensively, I imagine Edwards beasted them all week. France attacked with such a lack of variety and precision that it’s hard to estimate how much better Wales were in this department compared to the debacle of the Irish match. These fellas are off the hook for now, but we need to see a continuous improvement over the rest of the tournament.
Welsh fans will now be expecting the moon on a stick, probably. They’ll settle for a win in the next game. And if we win that, we’ll expect another. Et cetera. You’ve got to dog it out sometimes, and for all the justified stick they took during the losing streak, they deserve some kudos for winning this one late on.