State of the Nation: Wales

Date published: November 30 2016

With the November internationals now done and dusted for most teams, we look at the state of affairs in each of the competing nations. Next up, Wales.

Three wins from four matches should represent a good return for Wales. Well, not this time. The growing pains written all over Wales and their desire to expand their attack mean that a first November treble since 2002 should be met with less enthusiasm that you might expect.

For as much as those wins over Argentina, Japan and South Africa will look good on the stats sheet in years to come, the performance that still lingers is the hopeless effort against Australia, when their defence was a shambles.

Wales starting slow in November is nothing new but it was arguably the worst showing of the year from a Tier 1 nation – and that’s saying something given South Africa’s slump.

What’s clear is that the transition to free-flowing attack is taking some time, as outlined excellently by our analyst this week, even if the desire is there to go wide. Of course when it doesn’t work, or the chance isn’t really there, we saw the risks of forcing it with Akihito Yamada’s intercept try.

The worst thing to do would be for supporters to buy into beating an out-of-sorts Argentina and plummeting South Africa as a sign of clear progress.

Top players in Alun Wyn Jones and Justin Tipuric still have match-winning performances in their locker – Jones was magnificent on his return against Argentina following the passing of his father – and having Taulupe Faletau back to full fitness after a few more games under his belt for the Six Nations automatically makes Wales stronger.

Wales might feel a spent force tactically but a combination of Tipuric and Faletau, natural ball carriers with pace, feels like the answer to opening up a stationary Welsh attack.

How the balance complies with playing regular captain Sam Warburton will be one of the major subplots leading up to the Six Nations.

Warburton’s accomplishments as a leader have never received the recognition it deserves, with the easier option being to favour flankers who produce more on-camera moments than the unseen work. In a Lions year when Warburton previously would have been favourite to lead the side again as he did in Australia, a battle to start for his country would automatically dent those claims.

Elsewhere the lack of action for rising star Keelan Giles was bizarre, and Sam Davies too, given the Ospreys pair seem to represent a bright future, and plenty of speed and skill.

Perhaps most of all what Wales are crying out for is an inside centre to attack the gain line with soft hands, that second distributor missing from their backline to dovetail with Dan Biggar and get the ball wide, faster, to a subdued George North. Who that person is remains to be seen, with no obvious candidate sticking his hand up in the PRO12.

November’s victories might have masked over these issues but the Six Nations could prove to be less forgiving.

England and Ireland are on fire, France and Scotland threatening to step up a level. And then there’s Wales. Warrenball has worked in the past in the Six Nations but now feels as though it has run its course.

What we saw in New Zealand back in June offered some hope and the sooner Howley and his coaches build off that the better.

Read the rest of our State of the Nation pieces right here