Updated: Apr 2, 2021
A first outing for Booth and James was a mixture of good, bad, and ugly.
The first ten minutes gave us a glimpse of what they may be trying to achieve. It looked powerful, direct, and promising before a few crazy minutes that saw a really poor attempt at a tackle; followed by a pretty negligent and crazy follow up of a kick-off by a Test standard Lions winger. Those few mad minutes changed the course of the game. We still continued to show some promise with our new attack structure. breaking the line far more times in one game than we had done the entire season where the only way we looked capable of scoring tries was from our rolling maul. We also battled the handicap of fourteen men both bravely and intelligently. Our defence was rarely outflanked until the closing minutes.
We saw top level performances from Rhys Webb, Sam Parry and Kieran Williams who were clearly our three stand out performers. Following close behind them were the usual suspects - AWJ and Tips. We also saw the usual solid efforts from Nicky Smith, Adam Beard, Dan Evans, Morgan Morris, and Owen Watkin.
Had this been a must win game we suspect Booth may have not used his bench to the same extent. Taking off Webb for Morgan-Williams was a huge drop off although the youngster did nothing wrong in his time on the paddock. Also replacing Watkin rather than Kieran Williams was a mistake because history tells us Williams puts in so much quality effort into his game that his body is generally struggling after seventy minutes. Young Josh Thomas was a pleasant surprise. He seems to have grown physically and looked, on admittedly limited action, as if he could be a useful back up at both 10 and 15. Nicky Thomas looks to have lost his rather large stomach and held up well in the scrums. He is good value as a third choice but his work rate around the field looks like it could always be an issue that stops him being a real first choice twenty-three option unless we are playing in a monsoon.
Regardless of the good, there was also the bad and the ugly.
The bad was that we failed to put away an extremely poor team even with only fourteen men. We blew a try scoring option through a scrum penalty and missed a straightforward penalty. That said, Sam Davies missed more kicks for them than we did. Myler' s line kicking was relatively short and not good but in other aspects he was a massive upgrade on Luke Price in terms of his distribution and game management.
The bench selection was mystifying with two locks being included rather than a back row. If this was not because of injury or unavailability it was a pretty poor call. In fairness to young Will Griffiths though, he looked far more explosive than Bradley Davies for the short time he was on and didn't try to do an imitation of the Harlem Globetrotters in front of his own posts with five minutes to go while protecting a one score lead.
So, we now turn to the ugly. The main reasons why we failed to get the win and had to settle for the draw.
The inexplicable decision of George North to follow up a kick-off so negligently was obviously a major factor which put us and our original game plan in a huge hole. The rather woeful defence of Olly Cracknell was another. Had Dan Lydiate been playing at 6 neither try would have been scored. He would not have gone high for the first try and would have controlled the inside line for the second. Cracknell may be our leading tackler by number but he is certainly not by quality. Lydiate is a 6 who makes dominant tackles. He is also yards faster so gets into position to make important tackles far quicker than Cracknell, who, through his lack of speed, is rarely in the right postcode to make. The final nail in the coffin was the throwing in of Dewi Lake and some rather silly penalties he gave away. Lake is a huge prospect with great power and athleticism, but the rough edges need to be taken off him and you cannot win games when your replacement hooker cannot hit a cow's backside with a banjo. He has international prospects but has to learn to throw.
It is always easy to be a Monday morning quarterback and it will be interesting to see the selection for the Cardiff Blues match and whether Booth wants to look at more players not in today's match twenty-three.