The Autumn Internationals had two aims 1.) to increase much needed revenue for the WRU and 2.) to give Mike Ruddock the opportunity to get to know his players and their abilities before setting out to improve on last years dismal performance in the 6 Nations Tournament.
I believe on both counts there has been a measure of success. David Moffett is quick to declare his controversial ticketing policy has worked and the announcement of a record home crowd against New Zealand covered up for the fact that the gate against South Africa was disappointing, but in PR terms you do not mention the negatives.
Mike Ruddock is obviously delighted with the performance of his teams. Many critics anticipated the overall result of played four, won two and lost two! Everyone knew who the wins would be against and of course who we would lose to, but who could have predicted the narrow margins of defeat against the two World Super Powers of South Africa and New Zealand.
As it turned out Wales could have been basking in the limelight by defeating both Southern Hemisphere teams.
The game against South Africa was lost in the opening 30 minutes when tries and points were given up too early and easily. This start was typical of Welsh sides of the past, Bad line-out techniques and a shaky scrum did little to instil confidence and as an onlooker after 30 minutes I thought Wales were ready to ship another 50+ points against the ‘Boks. Luckily for the coach, Colin Charvis pulled the pack together and allowed the excellent Dwayne Peel to fire the backs into an exciting climax.
Most of the talk in the WREX room after the game was about the relief most of us felt about the result and about the never say die attitude of all the players who took the field. It was encouraging and early already former players and their friends were anticipating the All Blacks match. Mike Ruddock how ever had other things on his mind. He had to make sure minds were totally focused on the Romania game. This was important to the coach because there were areas that had to be addressed and other players to be seen.
Luke Charteris, after a cameo performance against the ‘Boks, was given the chance to improve the Welsh Line-out, Mefin Davies also helping in this department and Michael Owen allowed to play in his most influential position at no.8. It all worked so well on the night with the talented backs relishing top class possession and accumulating 10 tries, with four going to the prolific try scorer Tom Shanklin.
Unfortunately Charteris was unable to take the field against the All Blacks allowing Gareth Llewellyn to win his incredible 92nd cap. In my day you would have to represent Wales for 30 years to attain that number, but with all this lifting in the line-out, I think some of us could have managed it, if they put us back down gently!!
What an occasion it was, a closed roof, 74, 000 in the ground and a stirring rendition of ‘Bread of Heaven’ to follow what I thought was a tame Haka.
All the faults from the South Africa game were eradicated; In fact some of the early Welsh tackling was the most ferocious I have seen. The line-out worked well with Brent Cobain doing sterling stuff at the front, Gethin Jenkins made sure the scrimmaging was improved and the whole back row played as a very effective unit. Even the ‘Achilles Heal’ of Welsh rugby – the restarts were almost perfect.
What was missing of course was a result. Stephen Jones has won endless games for Llanelli and kept Wales in matches with his kicking, for him to lose form on an occasion like this must have devastated him. Iam sure the rest of his colleagues and coaches would have tried to pacify him and I am sure he will somehow get over it. With the Japanese game a formality all eyes are now firmly set on England in February, but that is a different story altogether!!
Wales and British Lion.