Thursday 26 April 2018

Biggar refusing to apologise for Wales' new pragmatism

The great entertainers have become the pragmatists of Europe – Wales abandoned the beautiful game to win at all costs.

Adventure and excitement have been replaced by measure and efficiency, although the compromise could yet deliver a second successive Six Nations title against all odds.

It is a dramatic departure from the spirit of Welsh rugby. Their brand of "total rugby" cut a swathe in 2005, Shane Williams was at his side-stepping best in 2008 while the force of nature that is George North, Jamie Roberts and Alex Cuthbert were too strong last year. Now it is the unfashionable grafters who are lauded for their effort and sheer bloody-mindedness, with Ryan Jones, Toby Faletau and Adam Jones the new heroes.

But if necessity is the mother of all invention, then desperation is surely its grandparent. The change was born from the pain and frustration of eight defeats in a row and results are helping the healing process.

"It's no good playing well and losing because you don't get anything from that," said out-half Dan Biggar. "You may be entertaining people but internally you get very little from it."

Just as in Paris two weeks earlier, there was nothing pretty about this victory in a torrential downpour in Italy but Wales rolled up their sleeves to reign in Rome. They obliterated Italy's scrum, defended manfully and scored from the few chances on offer, thanks to Biggar.

The 23-year-old has had to wait for his opportunity and is demonstrating that patience on the field. He offers control, plays the percentages, as he did for Jonathan Davies' try, and can fire a scoring pass as he did to Cuthbert.

Wales have not conceded a try in 200 minutes of rugby, to the delight of defence coach Shaun Edwards, and have won six of their last seven away games in the Championship. At this rate, Wales will prefer not to play in the pressure-cooker of the Millennium Stadium. The next time they do, against England, on March 16, it could yet be for the title. Before that, they travel to Murrayfield on March 9.

Gethin Jenkins is struggling with a calf problem, but Alun Wyn Jones could well relieve Andrew Coombs after his successful comeback although Sam Warburton, another to return from injury, is unlikely to start given Justin Tipuric's form.

However, as long as Wales have Leigh Halfpenny, man of the match for the second game in a row, they possess a match-winner, according to Barry John: "One player doesn't make a team but he can make a difference. Halfpenny is basically what Gareth Bale is to Tottenham and the Wales football team." (© Independent News Service)

Italy – A Masi; G Venditti, T Benvenuti, G Canale (G Garcia 63), L McLean; K Burton, E Gori (T Botes 64); A Lo Cicero Vaina (D Giazzon 54), L Ghiraldini (Q Geldenhuys 54), M Castrogiovanni (L Cittadini 70), A Pavanello, F Minto (A de Marchi 54), A Zanni, S Favaro (P Derbyshire 70), M Vosawai.

Wales – L Halfpenny; A Cuthbert (A-W Jones 51), J Davies, J Roberts (M Williams 70), G North; D Biggar (J Hook 68), M Phillips (L Williams 63); G Jenkins (P James 45), R Hibbard (K Owens 51), A Jones (C Mitchell 73), A Coombs, I Evans, R Jones (S Warburton 68), J Tipuric, T Faletau.

Ref – R Poite (Fra)

Irish Independent

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