Planet Rugby

Wales fluff their lines in victory

14th November 2008 21:12

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Leigh Halfpenny try v Canada

Lone moment of magic: Leigh Halfpenny finishes off a brilliant solo try

Wales put paid to Canada 34-13 at the Millennium Stadium on Friday. That's it. Ireland's 55-0 romp this was not, nor was it a performance from a second string indicative of a lively new generation coming through. Welsh fans will have to wait a while before they can have cause for optimism as the Irish currently do. Canada's might not though.

Before we tear the Welsh apart...

Canada came and fulfilled all they had promised. They made a mockery of the Irish media idiots who labelled them a joke last week, with some sterling defensive organisation and no end of disciplined enthusiasm at rucks and mauls.

The back row swarmed, the second row jumped well, the backs held their lines and watched their men. They were very weak in the scrums, where professional training gives a far bigger edge than in the backs, but they were not a joke. There was plenty of rugby intelligence on display to go with the heart, plenty of evidence that any lessons needed to be learned from last week had been learned, and plenty of names to watch out for the future. Scotland must beware.

It was going wrong for Wales long before the kick-off. They took to the field in some revolting yellow shirts, justified on the basis of being the colour of the flag of St. David, but which had absolutely naff all to do with any national rugby colour and everything to do with some soccer-crazed marketeer's drive to pull in a bit of extra coin.

Fortunately for the game's integrity, Wales' first display in yellow was so poor that people will not exactly be rushing out to buy the kit to cherish the memory. Hopefully it can now be abandoned as a failed experiment. "The kit or the team?" I hear you ask. Well...

Wales led 10-6 at half-time, and that was flattering. The second phase attack pattern was as precise as a scattering of squirrels fleeing a firework. Anyone fortunate enough to get the ball simply charged ahead with the power of a locomotive but the effectiveness of a sponge. Canada, their physicality and readiness for battle clearly underestimated, soaked it all up almost bemusedly and quietly cleared their lines.

From the stats of the first half, Wales should have been light years ahead. Canada lost three out of six scrums, three out of eight line-outs, and conceded seven penalties. That's 13 phases of set-piece ball, much of it turnover ball at that, and doesn't even include the scrums and line-outs the Welsh earned themselves. It also doesn't bear out the superiority of the Welsh scrum, which was a stone heavier per man and squeezed the Canadian unit accordion-style at times in the first half.

Instead of light years ahead, Wales were ahead courtesy of one bright spark, when Leigh Halfpenny tore down the right, before straightening, ducking, weaving inside, and then driving two opponents over the line for a brilliant solo try.

Prior to that, there were six knock-ons in the first ten minutes, an inexcusable penalty count for a team so obviously stronger, and some terrible squandering of possession. The backs' running lines were flatter than a GI's haircut, and frequently less aesthetic. Decision-making will be high on the Gatland post-match review.

Also high on the list will be a look at James Hook's knee injury that forced the fly-half off the pitch after 20 minutes. A bad night could get really ugly there.

James Pritchard gave Canada the lead after ten minutes, with Dafydd Jones caught going into a ruck on the side and Pritchard landing an easy penalty.

Wales finally broke through a stubborn defence after 25 minutes when full-back Morgan Stoddart squeezed over in the corner after collecting a pass from Tom Shanklin. It ought to have been a catalyst, but the indiscipline and poor decision-making continued to haunt the Welsh, and they paid a further three-point penalty on the half-hour. Then came Halfpenny's solo, and then half-time.

Martin Johnson goes on about winning ugly, and for most of the second half, Wales did just that. Two more tries came until the final minute, both of them penalty tries as the Canadian front row cracked under the strain. But there was still nothing the Welsh could offer anywhere else.

Canada replacement fly-half Ryan Smith gave his side a welcome reward for their endeavour with an intercept try from Dan Biggar's flat pass, but Wales did finish with a flourish: Jamie Roberts breaking the line and linking with Dwayne Peel for Halfpenny to score a cracker under the posts.

Man of the match: Leigh Halfpenny was excellent on the rare occasions the ball got that far, Martin Roberts had a solid debut and up front, John Yapp ruled every scrum. Canada lock Josh Jackson had a terrific game in tight and loose, and James Pritchard mopped up anything that broke through the Canadian defence. But for his defensive effort in the loose and line-out, Canuck flanker Adam Kleeberger gets the award.

Moment of the match: Leigh Halfpenny's tries. Both of them superb.

Villain of the match: The Welsh kit designer. You know who you are.

The scorers:

For Wales:

Tries: Stoddart, Halfpenny 2, Penalty try 2

Cons: Biggar 3

Pen: Biggar

For Canada:

Try: Smith

Con: Pritchard

Pens: Pritchard 2

Wales: 15 Morgan Stoddart, 14 Leigh Halfpenny, 13 Tom Shanklin, 12 Andrew Bishop, 11 Mark Jones, 10 James Hook, 9 Martin Roberts, 8 Ryan Jones (c), 7 Robin Sowden-Taylor, 6 Dafydd Jones, 5 Luke Charteris, 4 Ian Gough, 3 Rhys Thomas, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 John Yapp,

Replacements: 16 Matthew Rees, 17 Eifion Roberts, 18 Alun-Wyn Jones, 19 Andy Powell, 20 Dwayne Peel, 21 Dan Biggar, 22 Jamie Roberts.

Canada: 15 James Pritchard, 14 Ciaran Hearn, 13 Bryn Keys, 12 Ryan Smith, 11 Justin Mensah-Coker, 10 Ander Monro, 9 Ed Fairhurst, 8 Aaron Carpenter, 7 Adam Kleeberger, 6 Jebb Sinclair, 5 Josh Jackson, 4 Tyler Hotson, 3 Jon Thiel, 2 Pat Riordan (c), 1 Kevin Tkachuk.

Replacements: 16 Mike Pletch, 17 Frank Walsh, 18 Mike Burak, 19 Sean Michael Stephen, 20 Morgan Williams, 21 Matt Evans, 22 Dean Van Camp.

Referee: Stuart Dickinson (Australia)

Touch judges: Matt Goddard (Australia), David Changleng (Scotland)

Television match official: Geoff Warren (England)

Assessor: Jim Fleming (Scotland)

By Danny Stephens

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