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Analysis: Wales' Bethan Lewis- built of something different

By Will Owen
CARDIFF, WALES - APRIL 15: Bethan Lewis of Wales wins the line out during the TikTok Women's Six Nations match between Wales and England at Cardiff Arms Park on April 15, 2023 in Cardiff, Wales. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

The world champion Black Ferns. A Canada side who nullified Wales just before the World Cup. An Australian outfit who broke Welsh hearts in said World Cup.

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It’s a tough fixture list for Wales in the inaugural WXV tournament, but it’s the set of the fixtures they want. A genuine challenge and a chance to develop are what Ioan Cunningham’s side need if they want to properly establish themselves as one of the best in the world.

There are various players who have rightfully grabbed headlines: Sisilia Tuipulotu, destroyer of scrums. Hannah Jones, calm captain extraordinaire. Sioned Harries, tackle-breaking, try-scoring brute. However, one of the stories that has flown under the radar is the newfound importance of Bethan Lewis.

Under Wales’ relatively new professional programme, it’s difficult to think of a player who has improved more. Lewis has always been a solid international flanker and an excellent impact player, make no mistake; but now she finds herself as one of the first names on Cunningham’s team sheet.

Lewis has had a successful 12 months or so for both club and country. Playing a crucial role in Gloucester-Hartpury’s season-long effort to both dominate English rugby and entertain the masses en route; Lewis is one of the most important players in any side she plays in. First, let’s have a look at what makes her such an excellent rugby player with the Circus, then let’s have a look at her role in attack for Cymru.

As Gloucester-Hartpury pound at the Loughborough Lightning line, Lewis (far left of screen in the black scrum cap) quickly scans the contact area and anticipates the next movements of Loughborough’s forwards, whilst on the move. Maud Muir puts in an excellent carry, and Gloucester inevitably get quick ball.

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Naturally, Loughborough source the area around the breakdown, not wanting to give Mo Hunt a chance to dart over. Because Gloucester have played so quickly, the Loughborough backline have to work really hard to fold around the ruck. Two forwards scramble to get underneath the posts, but if they want to cover anything further out, they’ll have to run around not only the far post, but also the referee.

Lewis is wise to this and flattens up. She positions herself just two metres from the line, just to the left of the post. With only winger Bulou Mataitoga marking her, it’s unlikely that any of the Loughborough forwards will be able to spot Lewis, dodge the referee, work around the post and put in a shot dominant enough to stop Lewis inside a second or two. If Mataitoga flies off the line to smash Lewis, she can probably blindly fling the ball to her left and set up a try.

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Instead, Lewis uses her strength and just flops to the line. Mataitoga can’t hold her up on her own, and the Welsh flanker scores. It looks simple, but Lewis’ quick thinking has provided her an easy route to the try line.

Next, let’s have a look at her unbelievable work rate, and the knock-on effect it has on the Welsh attack.

As Georgia Evans carries, Lewis enters as her latch through the gate, then shifts her angle to clear out Christine Belisle from the outside. This is because Scotland will be folding from right to left (as we look at it) – and much like the post in the previous example, if she can pin Belisle on the floor, the Scottish defenders suddenly have an obstacle to work around.

Belisle does a fantastic job to shrug her off, so Lewis (far right) just continues her rampage and targets the folding Lyndsay O’Donnell instead. She has clearly entered intending to make a good clearout, and hasn’t deviated more than a metre from the tackle, so why would any referee penalise her?

Wales recycle and Lewis pops straight back to her feet, taking no rest period.

Just seven seconds after hitting the deck, Lewis is already up and on the other side of the pitch. You can see her on Elinor Snowsill’s outside, wearing 6. To the naked eye it looks like she’s either running a dump-off line off Snowsill, or is preparing to clear out one of the three players next to her. Truthfully, that’s probably what has been called here – but once again, Lewis looks up and micro-analyses the Scottish defence. They’re folding heavily from right to left, as they have some catching up to do after Lewis slowed it down a few seconds earlier.

Because the defence is drifting so hard, Lewis overrules the call and runs an inward line. O’Donnell, who has been overworked in the last 15 seconds or so, has to turn her entire body to even see Lewis, and she gets shrugged off with ease. The way Lewis anticipates this space opening up is terrific.

It takes a fantastic tackle by Eilidh Sinclair to drag her down just short of the line, but it’s not enough to stop Wales from scoring. With the Scottish park running out of steam, Wales pick & go, with Gwenllian Pyrs scoring a couple of phases later. The impact of Lewis’ work rate in this attack cannot be understated.

Finally, let’s look at one more example of her vision and work rate off the ball.

The ball spills out of a ruck, and Lewis pounces quickly. She considers passing to Keira Bevan, but spies a weak shoulder and goes herself.

She makes a good 15 metres on the carry, recycles and Wales play fast. Bevan and Lleucu George play down and blindside, where Courtney Keight makes a bust. Lewis begins to hop back to her feet.

After Keight’s run, Italy scramble to re-align their defence. They source the area around the breakdown, and keep an eye on Wales’ wider threats. The one player they don’t account for is the one who is currently on the floor – who just so happens to be the same player eyeing up the huge gap around two steps away from the ruck.

Not four seconds after getting back to her feet – and eight seconds after the ball is played away by Bevan from Lewis’ previous carry, Lewis hits the gap at speed.

She finds a weak shoulder, and Italy can only manage a one-woman tackle. Lewis offloads to Georgia Evans and Wales look to make a linebreak. Unfortunately, Lewis runs her line slightly too well and referee Joy Neville blows her whistle as she makes contact with the Welsh flanker – but on any other day this becomes a try-scoring opportunity.

Running this line is a mere instinct for Lewis; something that has been coached into her. Her insane level of physical strength mixed with her knack for spotting space makes for a perfect combo. From an outsider’s perspective, it comes across that Bethan Lewis is one of the most coachable players in Wales.

The crazy thing about analysing Lewis like this is we’ve only looked at her role in attack. This isn’t even the main strength of her game. Her dominant, yet unflashy hits in defence, superb positional play and her technical contact skills are undoubtedly her forte.

If Lewis continues developing like this, she’ll be unstoppable in a couple of years, no matter how tough Wales’ fixture list may be.

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Shaylen 6 hours ago
Brumbies the best team in Australia but still nothing to show for it

The Brumbies have been the strongest side in Australia for a long time and that was down to their forwards and set piece which has always been good and has always been able to dominate their Australian counterparts. This year the lack of maul tries and also the lack of a stable scrum has been a real problem which was also something Nick alluded to in his article this week about the creaking brumbies tight five. Home advantage is key as you say and the Brumbies must find a way to score more bonus points. If the Brumbies are really serious about winning a title they need to do what Kiwi sides at the top do. They need to smash every Aus side with a bonus point at home while claiming losing bonus points in every game they lose and denying their rivals bonus points. In their 3 losses in NZ this year they were smashed. They only scored 60 tries which is middle of the road, their scrum came in at 73% which was one of the worst in the comp, tackle success at just 83% which was right at the bottom and in terms of metres, clean breaks, carries, offloads and rucks built they were in the middle plus they had the most yellows. They basically were just not dominant enough wile they can improve their discipline. They excelled at kicking and won plenty of lineout ball plus their rucks were secure at 97%. Not sure about turnovers but they weren’t bad there. They just need to be more clinical and give away less and they will give themselves the best chance to win the title.

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