Locked away in a dark room, Warren Gatland and Shaun Edwards are discussing winning the 6Nations. In their minds is a genuine Scottish threat heading down to the Welsh capital. But Gatland’s experience tells him not to worry. The Welsh head coach and his trusted Defensive lieutenant can always fall back on the old rugby cliche ‘forwards win you a game, and the backs decide by how much’.
On Saturday, the grizzled 10-year veteran International rugby coach laid on a masterclass in how to approach your first game of a tournament. Dominate up front, suffocate the opposition attack and take your chances. Did anyone expect Gatland’s experience not to shine through?
Wales ran away with victory after a blistering opening 12 minutes. They eventually recorded a sure-handed demolition of Scotland. 34-7, with a bonus point thrown in to savour.
🙌 Well, that was quite something!
🏴 Well played, Wales.
👏 Well played.
— BBC ScrumV (@BBCScrumV) February 3, 2018
Individual matches are always something of a lottery but, winning a championship requires a strong pack and the best defence. Gatland’s experience developed a philosophy fine tuned over a number of years.
Criticism is a Catalyst
You get the sense that Gatland, Howley and Edwards thrive on a ‘backs-to-the-wall’ mentality. The pre-game build-up was dominated by talk of how the Scots will cut the Welsh to shreds.
The excitement building north of the border was tangible. An impressive autumn campaign saw the Scots beating Australia and running the All Blacks close. Domestically, Glasgow have put in some stellar performances, notably crushing Exeter’s hopes of progression in the Champions Cup.
But this is the 6Nations. A competition built on history and one that rewards experience. Gatland has served his time well and was well prepared for the onslaught.
Dominance Up Front
Another rugby cliche that is well known at a Wales training camp is you have to ‘earn the right to go wide’. Power and dominance up front set the platform for attacking in the wider channels on Saturday.
Against Scotland, this wasn’t just at scrum time, it was every collision. Josh Navidi was a monster at the breakdown, turning the ball over at key moments. The front five were winning the tackle area and forced the men in blue backward. It even forced a wry smile from Gatland, as the New Zealander looked on from high up in the stands.
💪 Another strong performance from Josh Navidi! 👏
🏴 Wales’ man-of-the-match against New Zealand? #WALvNZL
— BBC ScrumV (@BBCScrumV) November 25, 2017
Some may point to injuries in the Scottish front row but, this would be an after-time thought considering how much focus was on the six British and Irish Lions men unavailable for Wales. True, this game was lost in the close quarters. Scotland felt the effect of injuries in those key positions more so, than every one of the phenomenal backs who were unavailable for Wales.
Defence wins Championships
How often does former Wigan rugby league legend Shaun Edwards come up with a defensive game plan, perfect for the situation? Often, and on Saturday Scotland never ‘earned the right’ to play with their exciting backline. The Scots lateral play all too often resulted in backs going up narrow alleys against forwards. Once the backs were stuck in the tackle area, it created a mismatch in the realigned structure, and the inevitable mistakes came.
The Scots were suffocated by the well drilled nature of Edward’s system. The blitz-defence worked perfectly at stifling the lateral movement of the Scottish backline. Even at the back, the Welsh seemed more practised and precise.
Kicks from hand rarely found space between Halfpenny at full back, and his well organized two wingers. The spacial awareness of the Welsh back three nullified any get-out ball Finn Russell or Stuart Hogg attempted.
Under the pressure of high expectation, Scotland wilted. With their backs-to-the-wall, Edward’s defence fronted-up.
As a buoyant Welsh defence now heads to Twickenham, the English will be wise to not underestimate Gatland’s side. The New Zealander has that most elusive but most valued commodity in the 6Nations.
Gatland’s Experience Guides Wales to 50th Win as Head Coach
Gatland’s experience shone through, this was his 50th win of the Wales team he has devoted a decade of his career to. And he and Shaun Edwards will now play a hand in how the Welsh Dragon progresses in the Greatest Championship, the 6Nations.
Wales next play England, in Round Two of the 2018 NatWest 6Nations on February 10, at Twickenham, London.
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