Moriarty’s Debut at Number Eight a Gallant Effort Amongst Failure

CARDIFF, WALES - NOVEMBER 05: Wales' Ross Moriarty under pressure from Australia's Bernard Foley during the Autumn International match between Wales and Australia at Principality Stadium on November 5, 2016 in Cardiff, Wales. (Photo by Simon King - CameraSport via Getty Images)

After a calamitous start to their Autumn campaign, one player, at least, made a decent fist of it against Australia.

Moriarty’s Debut at Number Eight a Gallant Effort Amongst Failure

It was ironic that the roof was left open at The Principality Stadium on Saturday as Wales welcomed Australia to Cardiff.  So often these days the stadium’s defining feature is closed to aid better rugby playing conditions.  Yet not only does it seem to have the effect of making the pitch ‘sweat’, it causes the already prolonged and flawed process of scrums to be almost impossible to set, it also, in those famous songs and poems of Max Boyce, prevents God from watching his beloved men in red play.

Not that he would have been particularly impressed with the limp and flaccid display that was on offer from the Welsh players in the first 40 minutes (or found it difficult to find a seat).  Had he been required to shell out for his vantage point on Saturday, he would be well within his rights to ask for his money back.

Australia Firing on all Cylinders

Much has already been said about the lack of dynamism, muscle and first-up tackling on the gain-line. It is true that Australia came out of the blocks firing on all cylinders but they were also allowed to get into their rhythm early without being shaken or knocked off their perch.

Shaun Edwards – Wales’ Defense Coach – said at the official WRU press-conference earlier today:  “I’ve never seen stats so dominant in one side’s favour.  We conceded three tries, it could have been more.”

He went on to add: “I thought their attack coach got the better of me on that day.  I’ll hold my hands up.  But I’m a determined person”.

Poor Decision Making

However, although physicality has been blamed for much of the performance, it was also poor tactical kicking execution and poor decision making when in attack that had as much impact on the result as the bludgeoning up front that is always present in international test match rugby.

Jamie Roberts, with all his experience, should know that when he has a back in front of him, that is when he takes him on physically. If faced with a front row forward, he should remember that he himself is a back and should use his superior speed and athleticism to run around his opponent.  Yet too many times, he tried to run through whoever ended up in front of him.  So for those who came to see something different to ‘Warrenball’, they faced disappointment (although it could be argued at least that real ‘Warrenball’ guaranteed you parity in the contact area).

If there is a true desire to play a more varied and expansive game, it is these opportunities that need to be grasped with outstretched hands and although the ball may not end up over the try line every time, at least it will show that heads are functioning and they are thinking about the game.

Club Form into Test Arena

Among the myriad of issues Wales faced, one player took on the responsibility of playing out of position, filling the boots of one of world rugby’s best No.8s (and one of Wales’ best players) and brought his club form into the test arena to produce a meritous performance in a woeful defeat.

Ross Moriarty has stood out at Kingsholm for Gloucester this season in a team that is struggling.  He brought his abrasive style of play and his muscularity – this time from the very back of the scrum – to bear on the opposing forwards.  This was Moriarty’s debut at No.8 (and an impressive one at that), yet he could not raise Wales to his level.  Nevertheless, he showed real class and skill picking up off the base and developing a partnership with Rhys Webb.

Summer Experience

He used the experience of playing New Zealand in the three-Test summer tour as a learning exercise and motivation to improve.  He told the Daily Mail before the Australia game:  “It doesn’t get much harder than playing three 80 minutes against the All Blacks. There’s not a lot that fazes me in the Test match arena now.

The pace of the game against the best team in the world was a huge difference to what I am used to, for me and the team. I’ve been playing a lot at six but I have had some experience off the bench at No.8.  Nothing will change for me.  I will keep doing what I’ve been doing and I am looking forward to the challenge”.

Though not a perfect performance by any stretch of the imagination, Moriarty was facing two of the best back-row forwards in the game.  He may have been up against Michael Hooper and David Pocock but he did show what regular game time in the Aviva Premiership can provide.  Maybe he had an advantage over some of his colleagues plying their trade in the domestic Pro12.  Although the excitement of European competition can sometimes lead the Welsh, Sottish and Irish sides to triumph over their English opponents, it is the heightened pressure cooker environment of the relegation-threatening Premiership that coughs out forwards like the Gloucester man.

Moriarty’s performance has shown us is he needs to be part of any new pack Wales put together.  Whether he plays at 8 currently or reverts back to 6 when Toby Faletau returns – ensuring Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric fight it out for the 7 shirt – it is clear there need to be more who play with his pace and passion.

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