Maddening Wales played into Samoa's hands
IT’S sometimes a prudent tactic to not show your hand but Wales are taking it to an extreme level this autumn.
If they manage to burst into life in the second half of the Test series then it would surely be a masterstroke of deception to rival Operation Fortitude, when the Allied Forces diverted German attention away from Normandy in 1944.
If only. The reality is that under interim head coach Rob Howley they have spluttered their way through Test defeats to Argentina and Samoa; hapless with ball in hand, bumbling in defence.
The Pumas and Pacific Islanders must be credited for producing excellent performances – and they are fine, fine sides – but the manner of the defeats has been exasperating.
Shipping points galore to New Zealand is quite some concern, but failure to even trouble the All Blacks’ defence is just as worrying.
In two autumn Tests Wales have crossed the line just once – when Ashley Beck intercepted Samoa fly-half Tusi Pisi’s shocking pass and raced over from 80 metres.
It’s hard to recall a spell of lucid attacking play and they have made NO clean breaks in two Tests, while their offload tally on Friday was just four.
Leigh Halfpenny was lively against Samoa but the support for the full-back was shocking, with precious few of his team-mates busting a gut to be on his shoulder.
But it is the lack of subtlety to Wales’ attack that is the most puzzling, the obsession with one-up carrying and attempts to smash it down the middle.
The bulk of Jamie Roberts isn’t even being used as a decoy, while players seem to be homing in on bodies rather than heading for space.
It played straight into Samoa’s hands, and combined with defensive woes – missed tackles leading to two of the visitors’ three tries – made it a miserable evening.
"The fans deserve better," was the mantra after the game on Friday when ‘the fans deserve refunds’ would have been more appropriate.
But a dramatic improvement is needed if Wales are to keep things respectable against the All Blacks.
"If we don’t get up for a game like that, everyone knows what’s going to happen," said centre Beck. "We have a few days now to get ready for it.
"All of us know what the All Blacks are capable of. They’ve won the World Cup and the Rugby Championship and are an awesome team. We just have to pick ourselves up and not dwell on what happened."
Newport Gwent Dragons number eight Toby Faletau, one of the few forwards who has emerged from the two defeats with his reputation still intact, is set to face New Zealand for the first time.
And he doesn’t share the pessimism of those who are predicting a landslide victory for the world champions.
The 22-year-old said: "Why shouldn’t we back ourselves against the All Blacks? We’ve got the capability to give them a run for their money.
"It was a disappointing result against Samoa but we’ve just got to move forward. It wasn’t nice to hear boos from the crowd at the final whistle but they deserve better from us.
"We’ve just got to do what we have done well over the past year or so and prepare well, because we are a better side than we have shown over the last two weeks."
Wales’ hopes of at least making the All Blacks have to get out of first gear are not helped by a long injury list.
Blindside flanker Dan Lydiate, tighthead Adam Jones and lock Alun Wyn Jones were already ruled out of the autumn series.
They have been joined on the sidelines by fly-half Dan Biggar, hooker Richard Hibbard and lock Ian Evans, who were all forced from the field against Samoa.