OPINION: What are we looking at here? Dragons in a dip or decline or disintegration?
The shambles of Grand Slam Wales as seen against the triumphant yet fallible Samoans is causing a firestorm of debate in the country, a country that can become only more panicked as the New Zealand game looms horribly next weekend, with as many as 10 first-choice players likely to be unavailable and two of those who are fit - Sam Warburton and Toby Faletau - in a kind of form freefall.
Warren Gatland sweeps back in tomorrow after the grisly two-match temporary reign of Rob Howley with a colossal rebuilding job to do in terms of personnel, momentum and morale, and all of five days to complete it.
He is a great coach. But is anyone as great as that?
The reverberations are unconfined and have spread across the River Severn and well beyond. The ghastly reality for the British and Irish Lions is that unless one of the other home nations makes an unforeseen surge, the dishevelled Welsh will still be providing the biggest contingent on the Lions tour; and there are issues in the wider world.
What is wrong with Wales? How long have you got?
It is obvious that Gatland needed heavy persuasion when his contract ended after the last World Cup, obvious that the release to coach the Lions was a plank in the new deal and obvious that Howley was not cemented in the gameplan and organisation.
Yet the yo-yo transition is affecting the camp, no doubt.
To pile the blame on Howley's shoulders would be harsh. He has been savaged by injury and the absence of three Lions test players in the making, Dan Lydiate, Jonathan Davies and especially the monumental Adam Jones, has torn the heart from the team. Aaron Jarvis, the Welsh tighthead, so long a reserve with Bath, not only helped make a mediocre Samoa pack look dominating but revealed again that for all the success of the Welsh development programme, their ability to find any backup props to Gethin Jenkins and Jones is non-existent.
The Welsh scrum was humiliated. It would be a nonsense to start attacking individuals playing behind the shocking mess.
Perhaps, the ultimate nonsense is the campaign selectors are waging against those players employed by French clubs. To a man, Jenkins, Luke Charteris, James Hook, Mike Phillips and Aled Brew have improved their games in France. Has France moved hemisphere? Are jets flying more slowly? Are not the players just an hour maximum from Cardiff Airport? Wales is not so big a rugby nation as to ignore world-class talent. What happened to Grand Slam Wales? The answer, in part, is nothing. Nobody has seen them play yet, for many reasons.
Wales can start doing themselves favours. They can play the talented Hook in the starting team and they can start the towering Charteris, who created a tiny semblance of order from the shambles after he arrived. They can attempt to give Phillips at halfback some front-foot ball to bring James Roberts into the play. How can you shore up a scrum with no materials, how can you mount a holding operation, even?
Cheat and hope the ref does not notice? Not exactly tactics from the rugby gods. Unless there are a raft of miracle recoveries, Wales will run out to play a New Zealand team about 50 points better than Samoa, with a team potentially weaker than faced Samoa.
Add the sense of doom and loss of confidence and it equates to something horrendous. A fortnight is a long time in rugby. It is two weeks since Wales looked the best bet to try to stop New Zealand, and since All Blacks coach Steve Hansen admitted they were.
Back to the shameful acts, one of which was the shocking attempt of French referee Pascal Gauzere to even resemble a rugby official.
He was flapping like a dying trout. He did nothing about the arm-less forearm smashes on Richard Hibbard and a defenceless Dan Biggar, which wrecked both men and removed them from the match. Just for non-students of the laws (most of us), here are two short items from the law book.
Item One: A player joining a ruck must bind on a team-mate or an opponent, using the whole arm.
Item Two: A player must not charge or knock down an opponent carrying the ball using his arms.
As the TV commentator said after another sickening act by a Samoan player, as Maurie Fa'asavalu seized a Welsh forward around the head outside a ruck and twisted his neck sideways and backwards: "He didn't quite succeed in pulling his head off." He did not but it was a close thing.
Wales are sliding down the rankings, from potential World Cup finalists to also-rans, with their place in the top eight at stake.
To Gatland, above all, the fortnight has been significant.
He turns his back and look what happens. A night of shame and shambles, just for a start. The Times, London
- The Press
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