Wales need strong performance in Rome to provide ray of light

ALEX BYWATER: Amid a dark period for Wales rugby, Saturday’s clash with England did little to alleviate the solemn feeling. They need a strong performance in Rome to provide a ray of light just months out from the World Cup

  • Wales lost their third game from three in this year’s Six Nations on Saturday
  • There is a lingering feel of darkness around Wales amid tough week for players
  • Compromises reached to alleviate strike threat but problems still remain

Wales’ latest Six Nations defeat was a game which very nearly didn’t happen but before, during and after the loss to England there was more misery and anger for the country’s national game to endure.

In a handful of ways, Warren Gatland’s side improved significantly on their first two matches of 2023 although admittedly, the bar had been set low. The nuts and bolts of their game were better and there was defensive progress. Yet they still leaked three tries and their attack was woeful.

Ahead of kick-off, interim Welsh Rugby Union chief executive Nigel Walker caused consternation when appearing on the BBC. ‘The regions have signed up to giving contracts by the end of next week,’ Walker said, before launching into a statement which he must surely regret.

‘If that doesn’t happen I will be holding their feet to the fire. Make no mistake about that.’

After a week in which Wales’ players had threatened to strike for the England game before coming to an 11th hour agreement over contractual issues, Welsh rugby has plenty still to deal with.

Nigel Walker (R) risked fanning the flames with his comments to the BBC on Saturday afternoon

Warren Gatland will be hoping his side produce a strong performance in Rome to alleviate some of the pressure building – both on and off the field

Walker’s comments effectively only served as yet another stick with which to beat the WRU and they have plenty of detractors already. Why did Walker feel the need to show a red rag to the bull when the bull is already full of anger? Only he will know.

It is understood Walker hasn’t apologised to Wales’ four regions for his comments, but the contracts which are being proposed to the players at Dragons, Cardiff, Ospreys and Scarlets aren’t being well received because of the tight finance budgets currently on the table.

The regions hope they can be renegotiated. But that is a matter for the future and the reality now is that Wales have lost all three of their Six Nations games so far.

Their latest reversal came to an England side who for all of Wales’ efforts, still scored three tries and would have won by more had Owen Farrell not missed 10 points from the tee.

‘The last thing you want to do is get the Wooden Spoon,’ said Wales head coach Gatland.

‘That’s got to be our focus.’

Wales’ attacking troubles were summed up by the number of turnovers they conceded when hammering away in the English 22 and the fact their only try came from an intercept.

Louis Rees-Zammit, who picked off Max Malins’ pass to race away and score it, said: ‘I think with a new coaching set-up it’s always going to be tough.

‘Hopefully come the end of the Six Nations our attack will be a lot better. The talent is there for sure, it’s just about it clicking and working on combinations.

‘We’ve lost again which isn’t good enough but hopefully we can put in a good performance against Italy.’

A trip to Rome is next for Wales a week on Saturday. Like Wales, the Azzurri also have three loses on the board, but in contrast to Gatland’s side they are showing significant signs of quick progress.

Their attack, for example, is demonstrating plenty of promise. Italy will be favourites.

After the strike threat and ongoing frustrations around the game, it is a sombre mood in Welsh rugby right now. The game badly needs a ray of light.

Writing in his programme notes for the England game, WRU president Gerald Davies summed up the mood of the nation. He is right to be concerned because there is a growing sense of apathy towards Welsh rugby from the supporters which could prove terminal.

‘This is a solemn time for us in Welsh rugby which, I must confess, is putting it mildly,’ Davies wrote.

‘In the forefront have been major complaints, recriminations and occasional diversions, hostile censures and home truths. When no sooner than one sore has been attended to and is on the way to being healed with some relief, then another blemish arises elsewhere to concentrate the mind.

Wales were somewhat improved on Saturday but never looked like truly threatening England

The game was one of two limited sides striving to make strides in their development ahead of this autumn’s World Cup

The only time Wales broke through England came after a mistake from the visitors just after the break

Wales now need to circle the wagons, including re-grouping on and off the field 

‘It has been a harrowing time, unrelenting in its comment and judgement. We are sorry it has come to this.’

Wales must now somehow try to circle the wagons. Defeat in Rome would be unthinkable and yet another reminder of the job on Gatland’s hands. Wales lost at home to Italy last year.

‘It is really important we come back with an answer, an emotional performance, but a controlled one,’ said Wales centre Nick Tompkins.

‘It’s important for this group to heal and be together in this time. We can’t turn on each other and we have got to do this all together.’

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