(Picture: Getty Images)
By Shane Williams
What a Test match that was last weekend! Wales came out on the wrong side of the result, but the first thing I have to say is that it was a brilliant watch. I’m sure any neutral either tuning in on TV or watching in Principality Stadium would have thoroughly enjoyed the contest because at times, it was an absolute humdinger.
Of course that will be no consolation to Wales, head coach Warren Gatland or his players either in the immediate aftermath of the game or at any point this week. Any defeat will take a while to get over and this will be no different, but the lessons Wales will have learned from this game will be invaluable. I know a lot of supporters won’t want to hear me regurgitating the same old excuses for yet another Welsh defeat to New Zealand. That’s 30 in a row now!
So while my reflections on the game might sound familiar to some, that doesn’t mean they are not still vitally important. Unless we start to learn and make big strides in terms of taking our chances when they’re on offer, we’re going to continue to struggle against the world’s best teams.
Here, the game followed a very similar pattern to previous matches against New Zealand.
Wales gave it everything, had plenty of possession and territory, but didn’t quite manage to strike when the iron was hot. Then what happened? New Zealand seemed to go straight up the other end and score, they’re just so clinical when presented with opportunities to score tries!
Essentially, their ability to take those chances and Wales’ failure to do so was the difference.
It’s so frustrating to watch as a fan! We know now having watched Warren Gatland’s side for a while that they are going to create try-scoring opportunities. So, how to take them?
I can tell you as a player that it’s immensely frustrating when the final pass just doesn’t go to hand.
Of course no player deliberately tries to drop the ball and any number of different circumstances can lead to a spill, a knock-on, or a turnover.
The challenge for Wales is to eradicate them from their game. This is an all too familiar theme and it feels a little bit like Groundhog Day to be even talking about this.
Only more time together on the training paddock and increased sessions getting used to the new style of play can help Wales turn these near misses into five-pointers, but as Warren’s boys return to the Vale this week, they only have to look at the men who beat them for inspiration.
New Zealand, as we always knew they would, provided an absolute clinic in terms of taking their chances.
How good were Rieko Ioane and Waisake Naholo? It was almost like they were playing rugby from another planet at times.
Naholo’s first try even had me gasping in the commentary box, that’s how good a finish it was. Even Wayne Barnes raised a smile when he saw it on the big screen!
While the main lesson from this game for Wales will be the need to take their chances, there were other positives to be taken. Josh Navidi was absolutely immense, he’s shown against both Australia and New Zealand that he truly belongs at this level. Then there was more game time for Dan Biggar and Owen Williams as the two playmakers. I thought both of them were excellent.
The best example of their combination play was Scott Williams’ try. It was a brilliant team score. You don’t often see tries straight from a set-piece these days, but here was one straight off the training paddock. After a line-out Owen stepped in as first receiver, popping the ball up to Dan outside him.
The short pass was brilliant and Hallam Amos cut a brilliant angle to steam on to the ball and sprint clear. What I liked next was that Hallam – who had dropped a simple pass earlier in the first half – showed plenty of composure to find Scott outside him. He did the rest.
It wasn’t a bad way to mark your 50th cap!
Warren Gatland must wonder how his team can fail to make the most of more simple try-scoring opportunities, but then cut the world’s best team to ribbons from a set play when their defence is at its best in terms of organisation.
Warren is getting paid big bucks to come up with the answers to those questions and now it’s on to the final game of the series against South Africa.
It’s a game we should win – and now we have to! Wales must try and end on a high.
South Africa are, at their best, inconsistent right now and, at worse, downright average so our boys need to step up and learn their lessons from the All Blacks.
The biggest one is being clinical in attack, taking your chances, and really putting the opposition to the sword when they’re under pressure. That’s what I want to see Wales do.
It can happen, now is the time for a complete 80-minute performance.