You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

How Wales' attack finally came to life at Twickenham after dormant spell

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 28/02/2022 Ben Coles
Taulupe Faletau's ball-carrying helped Wales' attack kick on against England - GETTY IMAGES © GETTY IMAGES Taulupe Faletau's ball-carrying helped Wales' attack kick on against England - GETTY IMAGES

Wales lost at Twickenham and yet afterwards it felt as though they had more to smile about. 

Digging themselves out of a 17-0 pit by scoring three tries and attacking at the death to try and win the game might have all come a bit too late to alter the outcome, but even so, an attack that has appeared a little stale dating back to the autumn finally looked threatening.

While we'll come on to the individual performances, an obvious improvement in the second half was Wales' ruck speed. Against Ireland - the nadir for this Test side under Wayne Pivac - Wales when attacking just could not clear rucks quick enough and keep Ireland off the ball, resulting in a dismal ruck speed and therefore a stuttering approach.

This worked against Wales in defence as well - they simply could not slow down Ireland's recycling rate, with 71 per cent of Ireland's ruck recycling taking only 0-3 seconds. Taking into account their much-improved second half at Twickenham, Wales reduced England's 0-3 ruck recycling speed rate over the whole contest down to 45 per cent.

Turning back to the attack, here's a snapshot of how Wales ended up comprehensively outplaying England with ball in hand, besides the obvious tries count of three to one (and even Alex Dombrandt's try came off a Wales' line-out breakdown/a touch of interference from Maro Itoje).

  • Total passes: England 159, Wales 220
  • Bad passes: England 12, Wales 10
  • Offloads: England 6, Wales 14
  • Handling errors: England 14, Wales 11
  • Line breaks: England 2, Wales 5

Carries such as this from Taulupe Faletau, who had a stormer on his Test return, certainly helped to disrupt England's defensive line and open up gaps.

Faletau © Provided by The Telegraph Faletau

But the main reason for Wales' improved threat seemed to be quick ball when required at certain breakdowns when Tomos Williams wanted to up the tempo. In the build-up to Josh Adams' try England opt not to contest at the breakdown, yet despite having extra defenders available thanks to not being sucked into the ruck England are still beaten on the outside by a wonder pass from Williams, with Wales recycling the ball in a couple of seconds.

Adams © Provided by The Telegraph Adams

Reflecting afterwards on how Wales moved the ball better after half-time, captain Dan Biggar said: "We managed to put phases together. We actually made some decent dents in that first half but we couldn’t back up good on good.

"In the second half, we managed to keep ball and stress them for large periods. That put pressure on them. We’ve worked hard on our shape.

"We know we haven’t quite got it right but I thought we threatened the line and we brought a lot of players into play really well today. We’ve got to get that on the pitch from minute one. It allows us to dictate things. We have to get that on the pitch early doors as opposed to being reactionary."

Biggar's point was reflected well in the build-up to Nick Tompkins' try. Wales hit successive line-outs in the corner after England penalties - credit to Wales replacement loosehead prop Gareth Thomas for starting the initial counter-attack with a turnover - and went through six fairly patient phases until this quicker effort from Ryan Elias (2), supported by Faletau (8) and with good clean-out work from Adam Beard (5).

The speed of the ruck ball for Williams - just under three seconds - and Watkin's (13) dummy line on a crash ball, opened up the space for Tompkins to nip through.

Tompkins © Provided by The Telegraph Tompkins

Not all of Wales' carries were perfect, with Maro Itoje coming up with one rip when Wales were building momentum, but the skill execution under pressure in the closing minutes must have pleased Pivac and attack coach Stephen Jones. 

There was a focus on getting the ball to Adams out on the left wing as much as possible during that period, despite Alex Cuthbert's monster game on the opposite wing on his 50th cap. This cross-field kick from Biggar finds Adams at pace...

Biggar kick © Provided by The Telegraph Biggar kick

...with Wales later doing well to stretch the field through Gareth Anscombe's pass before Liam Williams keeps the ball in play finding Cuthbert.

Wales fling © Provided by The Telegraph Wales fling

This touch here too from Tompkins, offloading ahead of contact and forcing England into a late defensive change of direction with the ball moving wide, was also very nice.

Tompkins offload © Provided by The Telegraph Tompkins offload

As with England there is a debate to be had about who should start in Wales' midfield - the key difference being that Wales have an abundance of options whereas England appear lost without Manu Tuilagi.

Tompkins and Willis Halaholo stills feels like the dream ticket, with Watkin defending well against England but limited in attack with only four carries. 

Jonathan Davies contributed late on, as he did against Scotland. But even if Halaholo's defence is not up to the standard of Watkin or Davies, with a few lapses in his last Test in the win over Australia in the autumn, the dynamism he offers with ball in hand and potential to open up defences, combined with Tompkins' growing leadership and top defensive work, feels the most balanced and appealing pairing.

Perhaps with Halaholo involved both as a momentum generator or as a decoy, the glimmers of promise Wales showed in attack chasing the game at Twickenham will be seen from the start when they face a daunting France next week.

Sign up to the Front Page newsletter for free: Your essential guide to the day's agenda from The Telegraph - direct to your inbox seven days a week.


More from The Telegraph

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon