Zebo and Hartley dissect Wales' crisis: 'It just looks like they don't know what the plan is really out on the field'
Struggling Wales fell to their sixth successive defeat under Wayne Pivac when they were beaten by Ireland last Friday in Dublin and they are now ranked ninth in the world – a far cry from the No1 billing enjoyed heading into last year’s World Cup on the back of a Six Nations Grand Slam under Warren Gatland.
They have been poor to watch in that run of losses and while Pivac has taken drastic action to try and rectify the decline by recently sacking his defence coach Byron Hayward, the desired improvement failed to materialise against the Irish and Wales were soundly beaten 32-9.
An Autumn Nations Cup match-up with Georgia this weekend should result in them finally snapping their losing streak, but that will unlikely be much comfort with Six Nations champions England due in Llanelli on November 28.
The return of Wales to the doldrums sparked an interesting discussion on the latest episode RugbyPass Offload between Ireland’s Simon Zebo and ex-England captain Dylan Hartley who tried to get to the nub of the reason why the performances of the Wales team under Pivac are so very different to the success enjoyed just over a year ago with Gatland at the helm.
“Ireland did what they had to do,” said Zebo, reflecting on last weekend’s Nations Cup round one encounter. “I wasn’t very impressed with Wales. I thought they were pretty poor. Ireland did what they needed to do. They controlled the game quite well.
RugbyPass Offload – Episode 7 – Corbs & Co
Great to have @AlexCorbs join us this week to chat Ireland v England, Lions Tours, Tinder dates, Giltinis and his battle to overcome cancer?
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 18, 2020
“Wales didn’t look like they were up to much in defence. Ireland seemed to be winning the collisions quite easy. It’s hard to take stuff from that game because it seemed so easy at times for Ireland and I imagine it will be a totally different game next weekend against England. But yeah, I was very disappointed with Wales. I thought they looked like a team who were five losses on the bounce and out of confidence and all that.”
Hartley responded: “This is a bit like what happened to South Africa and England in that World Cup final. People say like England underperformed and you’re saying Wales underperformed. Do you think it is because Ireland were so assertive and so dominant they dictated what happened?”
“Yeah, maybe, but not for the whole 80 minutes, definitely not,” replied Zebo. “I thought Ireland were good without needing to be great to beat that Welsh team. Wales, their defence typically over the last few years has been such a pressure game and Ireland looked like they had loads of time on the ball.
“They could play to width if they wanted. They could attack them aerially or through the pack. They just seemed like they had way more time on the ball than normally playing against a Welsh defence, and in attack they just looked quite poor. They didn’t look like they didn’t have any threats out wide going into contact or anything. They couldn’t win collisions, they just looked very, very poor.”
Warming to the theme, Hartley asked: “Do you reckon it’s like an identity thing? For me when I think about Wales it’s everything that you have talked about. Defensively robust, really aggressive and in attack really direct and really aggressive as well. It doesn’t feel like they are doing either.
“They have got the tools, they have got the cattle to do that because they have got the same playing group effectively. It’s what they had with (Shaun) Edwards, Gatland and co.
“I feel like Pivac is probably trying to, this is just a suggestion, maybe impose a new identity on them maybe playing a different way, going away from what they have been successful at. Is that him guilty of just trying to put his stamp on the team and evolve the team. I don’t know?”
Zebo replied: “It’s tricky. You’re right there. It seems like they are in between two different styles of play. At times they are playing to width but they are playing so deep off the line it is easy for defences to push off onto them and they are not really a threat.
“At times they will get over halfway and all of a sudden they might lose one contact and they will throw up a box kick. They are in between playing wide-wide and going through the middle and it just looks like they don’t know what they plan is really out on the field. It’s a big transitional period for them.”
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