Six Nations
John Taylor: Slicker passing key to Wales realising their potential
John Taylor
February 11, 2016
Highlights: Ireland 16-16 Wales

Wales teams are always compared to the side I was involved in during the 1970s. The present crop certainly have more power and they are probably on a par when it comes to pace but, if they are going to fulfil their potential - and that is what we all want - they need to find the key to turning superiority into points and that is where I believe they can learn a few things from their predecessors.

The current team is just not scoring enough tries. They do the hard work, set up the opportunity and then blow it far too often. The one area they compare badly with the guys from the 70s is passing. Take Uruguay out of the World Cup pool equation and Italy out of last year's Six Nations (because Wales' eight tries distorted everything) and in both competitions Wales scored fewer tries than all their main rivals which is totally unacceptable given that they often dominated possession and territory.

Let's look back. When John Dawes took over as captain of London Welsh in the 60s he also became the de facto coach and very soon realised he had a major problem. How did he secure ball to play the beautiful game when his forwards were small compared to most of the other clubs? The obvious answer was to beef up the pack but that was not so simple when being 'Welsh' was a prerequisite so he decided to come at the problem from a completely different angle.

Possession was obviously scarce so he decided using it to maximum advantage was paramount. 'Once we have the ball they don't have it back until we have scored' became his mantra. It developed into the template for the way Wales played for the next decade.

© Barratts/EMPICS Sport

Carwyn James, another visionary, ran with it and refined it further on the 1971 Lions tour when the All Blacks were beaten in a series for the only time ever -- Dawes was captain. Sir Graham Henry still credits that tour as being the biggest influence on his rugby thinking and claims it changed New Zealand rugby more dramatically than any other event in rugby history.

The current squad could learn from that approach. They certainly have more power (the present team is about four stones a man heavier) so possession is not a problem and they are no slouches either so, comparatively, they are probably as quick. The only area where they are second best is when it comes to passing.

Dawes was one of the best passers the game has ever known -- one of the very few who could catch and give a pass without taking a stride. I am not talking about flipping the ball on, this was genuine take and give but all done with the finger tips. Gerald Davies benefitted hugely -- with JPR creating the overlap he received the ball in space so was able to utilise his exceptional pace and footwork to destroy the opposition.

George North would give anything for that sort of possession. He has complained bitterly about the lack of opportunity at Northampton this season and suggested that joining up with the Welsh squad was just what he needed but is it? If Wales continue to play as they did last Saturday he will be just as frustrated at the end of the Six Nations.

Wales can bleat about the referee and consider themselves hard done by with some justification but, ultimately, they have to accept they were their own worst enemies against Ireland because they failed to convert any of their opportunities out wide. Liam Williams was obviously rusty but still culpable for going himself when he could have put North over in the first half and, for most of the time it was the same old fare - Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies driving it up through the middle, often making good ground, only for Ireland to slow everything down at the breakdown to snuff out the threat - it has been like that for the last couple of seasons.

© (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

The blitz and slide defences, now meticulously rehearsed, have definitely made for less space on a rugby field but it would be great to see a team trying to outflank the opposition a couple of times a match if only to keep them honest; it is made more difficult because players cannot move the ball quickly anymore. They all want to spin pass even when the ball only has to travel a few feet and spin passing requires a hand adjustment - Dawes and Mike Gibson (his Lions partner) would have had the ball in the winger's hands by the time they move it on once.

Players like Roberts, Davies and North are gems, they do not come along a very often. Wales have all three of them in the same back-line but are not reaping the benefit. They are all giving everything they have to offer -- it spoke volumes that Roberts made more tackles than any other player in the first round of matches -- but everybody except perhaps Shaun Edwards, the Welsh defence coach, wants to see them up in lights for attack not defence.

Wales might feel they were unlucky against Ireland - the referee was definitely tough on them -- but decisions can so often go against you in rugby and this Welsh team should be good enough to make its own luck. Slicker and more accurate passing could just prove the missing link.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
John Taylor is a former Wales international who toured with the British & Irish Lions in 1968 and 1971. Since retiring he has worked in the media and has covered the last eight Lions tours as a commentator or journalist

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