Exactly why Wayne Pivac so wants Rhys Patchell on board for Wales tour of South Africa as lifeline extended

The Wales fly-half debate has been fairly boring by Welsh rugby standards since 2019.

The usual talk of who the starting No.10 should be has been pretty stagnant. It’s Dan Biggar’s jersey right now, as it has been since Wayne Pivac took the job. The fact that he is captain again only reinforces this theory.

The inclusion of Rhys Patchell in this summer’s squad – the Scarlets fly-half is back in a Wales squad for the first time since autumn 2020 – does not signal that a new battle for the The No.10 crown is imminent, but if things go well, he will be looking for his first start in a Welsh shirt since the bronze medal game against New Zealand at the 2019 World Cup.

Read more: Wales may have just one place left in the World Cup defense and there are only two left

It’s been a patient wait for the 29-year-old who, above all, will be happy to be back in the Test competition after some tough times.

“He had a tough couple of years after the World Cup,” said Scarlets manager Dwayne Peel. “He’s been in and out of the team with injuries. It’s been tough. Even this year he’s had some ups and downs with injuries. But when he’s been available he’s been quality on the pitch. pitch. Having him in the squad It’s a big bonus for us. He’s going to be good. His body is good. He’s looking forward to it.

Of course, that’s not quite the case, with Patchell limping off with a hamstring injury against the Stormers last Saturday. He was not released from the Wales squad. Instead, he will be closely monitored by the Wales medical team.

After selecting the man who led his Scarlets side to the 2017 PRO12 title to face South Africa in July, Pivac said that, having shown enough on the pitch, “now really it’s his durability that will be tested in training. We’ll now have to wait and see if Patchell even gets that chance.

The fact that he and fellow fly-half Gareth Anscombe can cover full-back, with Liam Williams the only No.15 specialist in the squad, is just one reason Pivac will want to keep Patchell in his squad. . But there’s also a feeling that his game could suit the style of rugby that Pivac and attacking coach Stephen Jones wants, even if the chances of him usurping Biggar seem a little off right now.

Wales’ attack has struggled to make much impact recently, with this year’s Six Nations being the low point. A first home defeat to Italy was preceded by the first Six Nations home try-less game in 13 years.

Wales want to use a 1-3-2-2 pod formation and play with a ‘no numbers’ policy, meaning they push the ball wide early and often, with outside backs and forwards stepping in at the first receiver to make things easier.

But, with rarely connected front pods and hopelessly slow ball speed, things just don’t work the way they should. Instead, Wales are stuck in a game plan where the fly-half remains the focal point phase after phase, even as the options around him dwindle.

Where the Scarlets and Patchell had some success a few years ago both domestically and in Europe was moving their playmaker to reach options in other parts of the pitch. Patchell, as a 10, is adept at the basics you expect from a half butterfly.

A big boot, great vision and passing game, plus the ability to spot a gap either for his own solid running game or a passing option outside of him. How many times have we seen Wales challenge defenses with flat passing options like this? The answer is, unfortunately, rarely. But what really sets Patchell apart is how it positions itself in larger channels.

It’s that willingness to position himself away from first receiver when the moment calls for it, along with his eye for a gap on the outside, that helps instill the play on any court that Pivac wants. By diverting attention away from him, it forces his teammates to become distributors and ball players while opening up opportunities elsewhere on the pitch.

We’ve seen him over the years for the Scarlets and, when he had a brief run in the 10th shirt in 2018, for Wales. Patchell would trail around channel 13, forcing centers or back three to step in as a play option. Once the ball gets to him in that wider area, he has the ability to pass and run to create chances.

Here he doesn’t get the ball back, but if the Scarlets had gone further on Patchell on that fourth pass, then he would have had the chance to slide it to the two players outside of him.

He also has this ability to force himself into wide channels. Ryan Conbeer’s hat-trick try against the Ospreys recently came from Patchell executing a looping play against Johnny Williams which pushed him far.

We’ve seen Wales try to do similar things, with Biggar taking the ball on the move – the apparent buzzword in Jones’ training sessions – on looping plays made or acting as a third receiver, but it still feels like Wales’ crippling attack is dragging him back. to take the ball from the first receiver over and over again.

It feels like Biggar is so influential in Welsh attacking patterns that he can’t afford to die for a phase, so to speak. He needs to stay alive, avoid contact, and be there for the next game.

Patchell isn’t too bothered by that, though. He will actively take the ball a bit wider, looking for outside space or a weak shoulder he can reach. The best attacking fly-halfs are able to drift diagonally while staying square, dragging defenders while preventing those ahead of them from pushing.

It can be with the distribution in mind, looking to slip a player into space left by a biting defender, or it can be a relentless threat itself. In the example below, Patchell takes the ball quite wide, sucking up a defender while still being enough of a threat to the inside defense that they can’t fall back. That may be what Pivac and Jones need right now, especially against the Springboks.

Last summer, we saw the Lions, with 10-year-old Biggar, struggling to break the world champions with a fly half who was playing percentages. Granted, Warren Gatland’s play was conservative, but Biggar has had five starts against South Africa since 2019 and all five have been games where try-scoring opportunities have been rare.

“I thought he was good at what he did,” former Springbok Joel Stransky told WalesOnline. “I don’t think the Lions played the right tactic to beat us in the second test. I thought they were lucky in the first test to beat us as we came out of Covid and a lack of support. match training.

“If you want to beat the ‘Boks, you can’t play a standard game. You have to fight hard, participate in the breakdown and the set piece and hold on. But you have to have something in the ‘Boks I don’t think the Lions had that. I don’t think they made their game any special. I think they tried to win beating the ‘Boks at their own game and I don’t don’t think there’s a team that can do it.”

You’d think Wales under Pivac wouldn’t try to beat the ‘Boks in the way Gatland did, but the loss to South Africa in the fall largely regurgitated the script. Keep it tight, kick to compete, and try to seize the opportunity when it comes.

Stransky, who propelled South Africa to World Cup glory in 1995, thinks Wales would need something a little different at 10 to cause any sort of upset this summer. “The first point to consider is what is the biggest strength of this ‘Boks team and how do you fight it,” he said. ‚ÄúThere is no doubt that the fundamental power of the ‘Boks team is that they put the opposition under such pressure in the first phase and then in the breakdown. Any half-back duo who face South Africa aren’t quite on the back all the time, but will find it difficult as they will be under pressure.

“If you’re a normal, controlling fly-half you’ll struggle to break that South African line because the power and pressure that comes from the play phase means you’re always a bit on the back foot and that’s very hard to find gaps in a very structured defensive system. I think to beat the ‘Boks you need a 10 that has great vision, can do something amazing and in the same breath, and that’s maybe- be a little contradictory, right let’s not make mistakes because the ‘Boks are great at capitalizing on mistakes.”

Along with the ability to get in and around channel 13 himself, Patchell also has a direct and crisp passing game that can get the ball there as well. Wales’ best moments against South Africa in recent years have come from exploiting their aggressive large-scale blitz.

“The one thing about the ‘Boks blitz is you can get around them and that’s probably the way to beat them,” Stransky added. “But the wingers are so quick that they always manage to fill that space. If you think of Makazole Mapimpi, if he makes a bad decision, he’s so quick that he can still nullify threats. It’s a system they use that’s hard to beat.

“I don’t think there is a perfect system and there is always a way to beat it. However, it is tricky. Lukayno Am makes good decisions from 13. The wingers follow him and if they get caught they are quick enough to cover but i think you have to offer something different you are not going to beat south africa playing standard test rugby as they are maestros at smashing you to the ground .

Considering Biggar has started about four out of five games under Pivac, it seems unlikely the flyhalf jersey will be heading elsewhere this summer. It could well be the same story for the 15 months until the World Cup. In fairness, Biggar’s own individual performances make it very difficult for him to drop out, with a varied outing for Northampton against Saracens on Saturday showing the finer points of his attacking game.

But if Wales need something a little special and Pivac need something a little familiar to start the transition to the game that made his Scarlets side the darlings of European rugby in 2018 , so Pivac wanting to take another look at Patchell makes sense. Pivac may be so keen he’ll take him on tour despite another injury setback.

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