Cracks in defence leave Wales scrambling for victory

Coach Gatland's team concede three tries against France and will need to tighten things up for the semi-finals.

TOKYO, 20 Oct - Wales scraped into the semi-finals with an error-filled performance against France. The Welsh were heavy favourites but struggled to contain the French back line and found themselves chasing the game. The lead was 12 points after nine minutes and nine points at the half-time break.

The concern for Wales will be their defensive effort. They conceded three tries against France, and they have conceded at least one try in every game and two or more tries in four of their five matches.

The try that Charles Ollivon scored was a perfect example of Wales's defensive frailties.

When Antoine Dupont passes the ball from the breakdown, Wales have the French covered. France have four attackers and Wales have five defenders. This is not a high-risk situation for Wales. The threat for Wales is the presence of Virimi Vakatawa, above, someone we highlighted as a danger man for France.

Ideally, Wales would have two defenders focused on the centre. As play develops Hadleigh Parkes and Josh Navidi are covering Vakatawa but Parkes wants to drift to help out George North who is now defending two attackers. The previously sturdy defensive set-up is now under threat.

If Parkes does not drift he leaves North isolated on the wing. The danger appears to be averted, though, because he has Navidi and Gareth Davies covering his inside shoulder and shutting down Vakatawa.

Unfortunately for Wales, Davies was covering Romain Ntamack, and so leaves a hole on Navidi's inside shoulder. Again, Wales did not need to be in that situation. Tomas Francis was also coming across in support and could have dealt with Ntamack.

This was a disjointed defensive line, lacking in communication. Francis should have been telling Davies he was covering his inside shoulder and Davies could have then closed down the space. If Davies was not going to get across to support Navidi, then Navidi should not have kept drifting. The gap between Davies and Navidi opened and Vakatawa stormed through.

From there it is clinical from France. We know that scrum-halves are scoring a lot more, largely because of their support lines. Dupont receives the ball from Ntamack after running in support and has the simple, but high-pressure job of beating Liam Williams and putting Ollivon in for the try.

That gave France a 12-0 lead. Wales fans would have been remembering Paris in February when they came back from 16-0 down at half-time to win. It was a terrible start for Wales. They may never have found their way back were it not for the Sebastien Vahaamahina red card.

When Wales face South Africa next weekend in the semi-finals they will need to tighten up their leaky defence. The sign of a good team is one which can win even when they are not at their best.

Wales will be delighted with the victory but they will know what they need to improve before the semis.

RNS sl/sdg/mr/co