Backs are firing but Wales must plug holes in leaky defence

Warren Gatland's side may have won every game in the pool stages but they conceded nine tries, including at least one in every game. Unless they tighten up at the back France will punish them.

TOKYO, 18 Oct - Wales came to Japan aiming to qualify from Pool A with bonus-point wins over Fiji, Georgia and Uruguay and, ideally, top the group with victory over Australia.

They did exactly that, but the manner of their wins will not have pleased defence coach Shaun Edwards. Wales's leaky defence has conceded nine tries, including the one pictured for Australia's Dane Haylett-Petty, and has yet to keep its try-line intact for a full 80 minutes.

A good defence can be judged by its ability to defend the first phase. First phase is the fairest challenge between attack and defence: the attack gets to choose exactly where to stand and the defence has the time to deploy defenders as it sees fit.

In the example below, Wales put both Josh Adams and Dan Biggar on the blindside with Josh Navidi coming over to help from the scrum. Despite the attention of all those defenders, Josua Tuisova is able to power over for the try.

Edwards will also be disappointed with Fiji’s second try. Fiji's attacking tactics should have come as no surprise to their opponents: they line up their players and have some running hard lines and some staying back and waiting for the pass. The defence should read the runners and drift off anyone who is not likely to get the ball.

In the example below, Hadleigh Parkes bites on the run of Levani Botia. That creates an overlap for Kini Murimurivalu on the wing. The finish is exceptional but it is caused by Parkes making the wrong decision in the midfield. When you make the wrong decision once, you can expect to see future opponents try to force you into making the same mistake again. 

Wales could be described as defensively robust but lacking attacking flair. Of the teams who played all four of their games, only Japan qualified from their group having scored fewer tries than Wales’s 17. However, the haul of 19 points by both teams in the group stage was the most in this tournament. Wales should not be seen as lacking flair, but rather possessing ruthless efficiency.

Wales operate with a system of pods and utilise dummy runners to fix defenders and stop them from drifting. In the clip below, Wales immediately get to the outside of the Australia defence with two passes. The passing once they have got to the outside is perfect. First Parkes draws his man before passing to Jonathan Davies, who fixes his man and gives it to Wales's leading RWC 2019 try scorer, Adams. The speed of the attack leaves Ken Owens and Justin Tipuric behind but their work rate is exceptional. They hit the breakdown and win Wales the penalty.

Wales have gained more than 40m in one attack - most teams would love to have that lack of flair.

Warren Gatland's team have also shown creativity with their attack. In the clip below you can see how Parkes peels away from the densely populated left side of the field and looks to see how he can influence the defence. Parkes heads immediately to the right-hand touchline, forcing the defence to cover him; as they stretch to do so it will open up holes for Parkes's team-mates.

When Wales receive the penalty advantage, Dan Biggar can hit the cross-kick without risk. Parkes rises and takes it ahead of Marika Koroibete.

Parkes is a versatile three-quarter. He has stepped in at fly-half for his club side Scarlets during injury crises, so if Biggar is involved in a breakdown, Parkes can step in and keep the backline moving.

In a change from what many people thought before the World Cup, it is the Wales defence that needs some work, whereas the attack is over-performing.

RNS sl/sdg/rl/bo