Wales 19 Samoa 26: Talking points as Howley’s men extend losing run
Wales 19 Samoa 26: James Thompson takes a look at the talking points as the home side extend losing streak
Welsh misery continues
Wales matched their 2010 five-game losing streak with a 26-19 loss to Samoa on Friday night. They came into the autumn internationals targeting four wins out of four but after losing to Argentina last weekend, they turned in another miserable performance and have two defeats against their name. Interim head coach Rob Howley made eight changes from the Argentina game in the hope of reigniting Wales from their slump but it couldn’t stop the rot. They fell behind to an opening minute try from Samoan full-back Faatoina Autagavaia, and despite taking a half-time lead, they never looked confident and conceded two sloppy tries to George Pisi and Johnny Leota. It represents a dramatic drop in form from the Six Nations champions and they never looked capable of matching the physical approach of the Pacific Islanders. Wales were missing key players such as Dan Lydiate and Adam Jones and dropped captain Sam Warburton to the bench after a drop in form but should have had too much for their opponents. With world champions New Zealand up next, Wales need to regain form quickly otherwise it could be a massacre next Saturday.
Does Gatland’s absence make a difference?
Wales head coach Warren Gatland was granted a year’s sabbatical to scout his touring party for the 2013 British and Irish Lions, and his influence over this Welsh team is sorely missed. Since taking over the Welsh team in 2007, he has presided over two successful Six Nations campaigns and before the autumn internationals began they were thought to be the best northern hemisphere side. Wales have notoriously under-performed every year after winning the Six Nations and this trend has continued. With Gatland out, his assistant Howley has taken charge of the team and has come in from criticism from ex-players after a series of uninspired performances. Against Samoa, Wales never looked settled and aside from an interception try never looked comfortable in the face of a blitz defence. While it is the players who win or lose on the pitch, losing someone of Gatland’s calibre will affect any side and Howley’s inexperience is being exposed. He has been robbed of some key players due to injury and poor form but Wales don’t look like they have a coherent game plan and never looked likely of igniting their lethal back three of George North, Alex Cuthbert and Leigh Halfpenny.
Welsh Lions yet to roar
With the Lions set to tour next year, pundits and fans have been compiling their dream teams and prior to the autumn internationals most would have consisted of Welsh players. However, they have seriously underperformed domestically this season and have taken their form onto the international stage. Players such as Warburton, Jamie Roberts and Mike Phillips have flattered to deceive so far and while injury has claimed Alun Wyn Jones, Dan Lydiate and Adam Jones, Wales have not looked like the team that ignited the World Cup last year. The only Welsh player to come out of either game with any credit is full-back Leigh Halfpenny who performed admirably in a losing cause against Samoa. He was consistent with the boot scoring 14 points and was a threat attacking the line from deep but must be hoping some of his illustrious team mates step up over the next two weeks. The Welsh fans have been quick to voice their disapproval and will be demanding their national side to restore some pride in the shirt over the next few weeks.
Welsh injury list worsens
While injury is part and parcel of the modern game, Wales have been affected more than most sides recently. Influential players such as flanker Lydiate, prop Jones and hooker Matthew Rees were ruled out prior to the start of the autumn internationals and in both games so far that injury list has increased. Lock Alun Wyn Jones was ruled out for four months with a shoulder injury after the Argentina game and Welsh fans will have been concerned to see hooker Richard Hibbard and fly half Dan Biggar limp off against Samoa. Against such physical opposition injuries are inevitable but Wales can ill afford further discrepancy to their line-up. Biggar represents the biggest loss so far as Rhys Priestland has not reached his previously high standards and delivered an uninspired performance against Argentina last week. Similarly, the absence of prop Adam Jones has highlighted a weakness in the Welsh front row as the Samoan scrum destroyed their more illustrious opponents in the second half. When fully fit and on form Wales are easily one of the best teams in the world but they need everyone back to scale those heights again.