Wales great Jonathan Davies fears rugby union is danger of ”stagnating” as defences dominate the sport and lead to endless kicking battles that are turning fans away from the sport.
Davies has been dismayed to hear former players opting for golf and walking the dog rather than sitting through another international rugby match dominated by the team without the ball. The former Wales No10 fears England’s defence will be the dominant factor against Wales at Llanelli on Saturday with a repeat of the pressure and organisation that suffocated Ireland to a defeat at Twickenham.
Wales ended their losing run Georgia last weekend with Bristol’s Callum Sheedy at outside half, however, with the Welsh forwards currently struggling to win quick ball it looks certain Northampton’s Dan Biggar will be recalled to try and counter the kicking game that Ben Youngs and Owen Farrell use to move England into pressure positions.
Having masterminded attacking games plans in both rugby union and league, Davies is uniquely qualified to deliver a stinging verdict on the current state of the game he loves. Davies told RugbyPass: “Defence is the easiest thing to coach and it is a problem because you are not getting many great spectacles. I have always applauded rugby league for being brave and changing the laws to improve the sport as a spectacle.
“Rugby union is so weighted to the defence it worries me because the game is stagnating and it’s getting boring. It is important that this is looked at because talking to former players they are saying to me they are walking the dog or watching the game while reading the paper or heading to the golf club.
“Defences are so easy to orchestrate and the slowness of ball means that the box kick is the only option. You cannot play with slow ball against well organised defences and assistant referees have to be more vocal when it comes to offside.
“Eddie Jones is right because the easiest thing to do is just defend at the moment and that is how the game has gone. England are saying to opponents “break us down if you can” and if you don’t then we will smash you all day. Eddie Jones doesn’t care about a spectacle – he just cares about winning.
“No one is going to bring back rucking to speed up the delivery of ball although I would much rather my kid be rucked than being cleared out while jackalling for possession. That is far more dangerous than rucking. If teams like England are only committing one player to the breakdown then another 13 will be in the defensive line with full back at the back.
“In that situation you have to move the ball wider to force the opposition wingers to come up into the line and create space to kick into and find grass. Even when you do win turnover ball at the moment, rather than putting in two passes and then looking at what is on, the ball is kicked straight away and that is so limited. If you are not getting quick ball then, unfortunately, Callum Sheedy is not going to be able to do anything and will get absolutely smashed if he tries to move slow ball.
“The No10 choice for Wales also depends who is at centre and we don’t have a kicking second five eighth.”
Davies believes the return of George North would offer Wales an attacking weapon to get over the gain line even though he has been badly underused at club and international level. “ George played well at the weekend and do you bring him in and use him like Ireland use James Lowe?:” added Davies. “ He could be a massive asset for Wales if they used him properly and you also have Liam Williams and Josh Adams. I think Wayne Pivac will pick Leigh Halfpenny for this match.
“At the moment you have to fancy England on Saturday by double figures because Wales haven’t played that well and have struggled to get over the gain line.”