Ben Wildsmith dreams up a life less ordinary as France move ever closer to the grand slam
If you claim to know what’s going on with the Wales team you are one of three things:
- A liar
- Wayne Pivac
Until this week, the only reliable element to the 6 Nations story was that Wales had discovered their next era-defining player in Taine Basham. We’re in transition we all nodded over our consolatory pints, after all it’s not a World Cup year and these young players are gaining invaluable experience…
But Basham, like Rees-Zammitt a couple of weeks ago, apparently needed bringing down a peg or two. Or three, as he was dismissed from the match day squad altogether and sent home to contemplate the folly of allowing himself to be touted as a future British Lion.
Alun Wyn Jones, we learned, had returned to the squad to train. He wasn’t in the squad but an aura of Alun-ness had returned to the setup as they prepared to face the most highly rated French side we’ve seen in years.
I came to Llanidloes RFC for this game. Nestled in the Cambrian hills, and untroubled by a railway line since 1962, Llani attracts people who like to be left to their own devices to dream up a life less ordinary. Wayne Pivac would love it here. Nobody held out much hope.
The imperious French pack seemed bound to take us apart at the breakdown and starve our backs of possession. Had the game been played on a standard, drizzly Saturday afternoon that logic might well have held firm, but Friday night in the ‘diff always has the potential to astound if you do it properly and, from the off, Wales were up for a scrap.
A bracingly physical encounter drew gasps from the assembled. After Atonio emerged with the ball from one collision Peadar, whose Irishness is painted red for four games out of five, looked awestruck.
‘He’s like a pissoir with a beard!’
The French try 9 minutes in seemed ominous. All the ‘death of Welsh rugby’ warnings we’d heard after the Ireland game seemed once again apposite as we stared a drubbing in the face. But this is Dan Biggar’s team, and he does not do capitulation. Vocal as ever, he roared his pack on to dominance, rewarding them with long strolls forward as he rifled in perfect kicks to control territory.
At half time, it seemed to me that we’d got the measure of this. The sheer intensity of Wales’ work at the breakdown meant that France were playing to our tune, tries would surely come. France, however, had a telling advantage. I’ve watched this series in Cardiff, Cardigan, Monmouth and Powys, and one name has been invoked everywhere I’ve been.
It’s somewhat extraordinary that a defence coach from Wigan should dominate talk of Welsh rugby years after he left the WRU’s employ. Such is the impact that Shaun Edwards had on our national game and as Wales hurled everything at the French line last night, I’ll wager that his was the most mentioned name in the country.
Wales were the better side, but France don’t need to be good to win, when push comes to shove, they can defend a lead for as long as it takes.
So, where are we now? Rees-Zammitt was allowed off the naughty step to try and unpick Edwards’ system towards the end, but if he was the solution why knock his confidence by dropping him? Faletau remains superb but nobody knows our back row from one game to the next.
At the outset of the tournament, it seemed that we were building for the future, with Basham assuming a central role and Dan Biggar given licence to inspire the team in his own image. Now, Alun Wyn is touted to play against Italy and, with nothing left to play for, we seem to be looking back to past glories.
If Wales play as well as they did last night they will post a cricket score next week but I’m at a loss to know what has been achieved in terms of molding these fine players into a coherent entity.
We hope that Wayne Pivac has a plan because tenacity and spirit won’t allay catastrophe forever.
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