CHRIS KIRWAN SAYS: Howley’s Wales in search for plan B

First published in Sport

NOTE to Wales: fitness is not a game plan.

Last weekend’s debacle against Argentina produced little evidence to support Welsh belief in a Polish panacea.

“We talked about it being an arm wrestle for 50 minutes and we were 12-6 ahead but we looked one-paced,” said interim head coach Rob Howley after a 26-12 defeat that could easily have been heavier such was the Pumas’ dominance.

Therein lies one of the problems; Wales feel that their conditioning courtesy of their training camp in Spala gives an almighty edge so that they can make hay in the closing stages.

That rather than producing a novel attacking game plan they can simply slug it out for an hour before their superior fitness tells and their opponents crack.

It is reminiscent of Sam Allardyce’s Bolton: sports science, fitness, power and big lumps.

They had Jay Jay Okocha to add a bit of guile and Wales used to have Shane Williams before the little magician retired/opted to rake in the Japanese yen.

Much has been made of Warren Gatland’s absence while on a Lions scouting mission but Wales attacking problems have not emerged overnight.

If anything that should mean more scrutiny for Howley, after all he was responsible for attack before taking up the caretaker role.

Wales have been plodding for quite some time.

They have been reliant on the bulk of George North, Alex Cuthbert and Jamie Roberts, who can run amok as long as the forwards provide quick ball and mismatches.

The problem comes when the opposition stands firm or when an injury list means that deputies are asked to do the same job as first choice players.

The writing has been on the wall for some time and the performances were a touch lethargic even when winning a Grand Slam.

The attack started well in Ireland – notably Jonathan Davies’ try from swift lineout ball and a marvellous North offload – but it went downhill.

The win against England came thanks to a Scott Williams try from a defensive steal while turnovers were exploited against France and Italy.

Creativity need not be offloads a la 2005 or a return to ‘the Welsh way’.

In fact, the All Blacks’ success is down to a beautifully simple plan of executing the basics with ruthless and rapid efficiency, as evidenced by the way that they put Scotland to the sword.

There is nothing wrong per se with what Wales do – it can be devilishly hard to prevent when they do it well and they have more forwards getting their mits on the ball.

But there needs to be a Plan B when the opposition is soaking up the pressure and quite happy for them to go all the way to the tramline on the left, then return all the way to the right.

Argentina’s first try came from offloads by back row forwards Juan Manuel Leguizamon and Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe while Wales rarely attempted to get the ball away from the tackle.

It would be easy to point the finger of blame at the players for their failure to take the initiative and change their approach or try something out of the ordinary.

But at times it seems they are sent out to the middle in straightjackets, regardless of the personnel and absentees.

Hammer away and eventually the opposition will break... but sometimes they stand firm, asking questions of Wales that at the moment Howley’s attack has failed to answer.

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