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Wales at a crossroads and must change – the Steffan Thomas verdict

AS the dust settles on a disappointing result for Welsh rugby at Twickenham, the calls for change are growing increasingly loud.

Many supporters are prone to knee-jerk reactions following a poor performance. However, this is not a new problem – discontent has been growing among the fans for the past two years.

Warren Gatland has presided over a largely successful period in Welsh rugby history since he took the reins in 2008. The former Wasps coach has achieved three Six Nations titles and reached a World Cup semi-final during his eight years as coach.

Gatland at a cross roads over Welsh way forward

Gatland is at a crossroads over the way forward

However, the Welsh have only won twice against the Southern Hemisphere superpowers in eight years, despite a number of last-gasp defeats.

Accusations have been made that Gatland’s game plan is too predictable, with the Kiwi’s tactics having changed little over the course of his tenure.

The better test teams are constantly evolving their way of playing the game, with the All Blacks varying their tactics on a match by match basis. The Welsh management have attempted to get their men to play a little wider this Championship, but in the main their game is based on dominating the collisions and winning an aerial battle.

Wales were uncharacteristically lacking in energy against England, with the intensity that has been a hallmark of the Gatland era missing. Gatland and backs guru Shaun Edwards have transformed Wales into one of the better defensive sides in world rugby, but this strength was nowhere to be seen against England.

Wales missed 18 tackles in a first-half horror show on Saturday, despite having missed only 17 tackles throughout the five matches of their World Cup campaign.

The manner in which Wales finished the game on Saturday should be the blueprint for the next three years leading up to the 2019 World Cup. There is no need to reinvent the wheel as such – after all, every side must win the right to go wide.

However, Wales look far more effective when they play what is in front of them rather than sticking to a regimented game plan. The beautifully crafted George North try, which occurred courtesy of a Sonny Bill Williams-esque offload from Liam Williams, is a glimpse of what the Welsh back division is capable of.

Gatland’s track record suggests he is a fine coach, but make no bones about it: he is at a crossroads with this Welsh side.

He can either stick to his guns and grind out a few decent finishes in the Six Nations or he can evolve Wales’ strategy, adding more layers behind the scrum in order to create more attacking dimensions.

It is perhaps unfair to single out members of Gatland’s coaching team, given that the buck always stops with the head coach. It is clear, however, that inspiration behind the scrum is seriously lacking and the Welsh dressing room is in desperate need of fresh ideas.

Given the surprisingly average basic skill levels, one has to consider the position of forwards coach Rob Howley. With the former Lions scrum-half out of contract following this summer’s dreaded tour of New Zealand, Gatland needs to consider the direction that Wales are headed. If we take the weak performance of the Welsh pack on Saturday as an anomaly, then it is obvious that the attacking game is the area most in need of addressing.

Despite being in charge for 26 years, legendary Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson made it a habit of refreshing his backroom team every few seasons to keep evolving his team’s game.

Gatland could do a lot worse than take a leaf out of Ferguson’s book. The Kiwi coach has improved Wales tenfold since he took the helm in 2008, with the solid core of Wales’ game plan making them at the very least, a difficult side to beat.

However, to take this team’s potential to the next level, Wales must evolve their attacking game, or face the prospect of deteriorating over the next three years.

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