Forcing Wales into fresh line-out horror show will be key for England victory in Six Nations

Aaron Wainwright misses a catch as Wales's line-out disintegrates against Scotland
Aaron Wainwright misses a catch as Wales's line-out disintegrates against Scotland - Getty Images/Adrian Dennis

No area of the game summed up Wales’s upward curve against Scotland, from abysmal to the verge of a record Six Nations comeback, than their improvement in their line-out.

In a first half which Warren Gatland described as one of the worst he had ever been in charge of during his long coaching career, Wales lost five of their 11 line-outs, including four in a row as they fell 20-0 behind before half-time.

In the first 50 minutes when Scotland barely put a foot wrong, Wales’s lack of control at the breakdown and poor kick-chase combined with Scotland’s domination of the kicking game – making better ground with their clearances through the more assured Ben White and Finn Russell – meant that Wales’s set-piece came under pressure.

Review the first half and some trends emerge. Wales targeted Aaron Wainwright on nine throws in the game including four of their first five line-outs, throwing mainly to the middle with the exception of one effort to the front which was stolen by Richie Gray. Scotland’s giant lock played well before he was replaced with a bicep injury which will seemingly end his championship.

In perhaps an early adjustment following that Gray steal, Wales then used the taller Dafydd Jenkins at the front – 6ft 7in to Wainwright’s 6ft 2in – and had more success. Jenkins claimed two throws at the front and on both occasions Wales motioned as if they were setting up a maul before playing the ball off the top, attempting to catch Scotland’s defence off guard, unsuccessfully.

Then the line-out descended into complete disaster with a run of four errors, starting with this overthrow from Ryan Elias...

...which began the attack that led to Scotland’s second try through Duhan van der Merwe eight phases later.

From there things deteriorated. Wales’s sharp breakdown work, spearheaded by Tommy Reffell, led to penalties and attacking positions which Wales then squandered, such as this overthrow from Elias, coming immediately after the previous error above.

When Elias’s radar then started to work again the ball slipped through Wainwright’s fingers. Wales then tried to speed up their process on the next throw, and had a dart to Adam Beard at the front stolen.

With no set-piece there was no way for Wales to attack Scotland and the pressure began to build. From another penalty Ioan Lloyd missed touch while kicking to the corner – perhaps trying to spare everyone more pain. The coaches’ reaction after Elias’s second overthrow (below) spoke volumes.

Wales coaches react to Elias overthrow
Wales coaches react to Elias overthrow

Scotland applied pressure at times, mainly through Jamie Ritchie in the middle on Wainwright, but the errors were largely of Wales’s own making.

What changed? Well, Elias was replaced by Elliot Dee at half-time. This is a young Wales side which lacks experience in many positions but not at hooker. Elias now has 39 caps, Dee will bring up 50 during this Six Nations. While a change at hooker led to better success with Dee proving to be more accurate, Wales also changed strategy.

Having gone 6/11 in the first half, after the break Wales won eight in a row, only losing their final line-out when a throw to Teddy Williams in the middle came under pressure from Sam Skinner to force a turnover. That line-out featured a dummy pod from Jenkins at the front in motion before the throw, which was an exception to how Wales largely approached the set-piece during the second half. They simplified everything – no more faking the maul and throwing less to the middle.

Scotland’s crazy run of penalties, 14 in a row, practically invited Wales to kick to the corner and to execute a driving line-out. What Scotland could not get a handle on, which will peak France and England’s interest ahead of this weekend, is how well Wales executed the maul once they settled down, scoring twice and coming close to a third.

A quick wheel to the right after the catch was made by Beard and transferred to James Botham...

Wales try
Wales try

...completely caught Scotland off guard for Wales’s first try.

Scotland, through Skinner, tried to apply pressure to Wales’s line-out but now could not get close to Wainwright or Beard, which is a compliment to the accuracy of Dee’s throws.

And while Scotland managed to stop an almost identical maul to the Botham try, another fast wheel to the right, they were unable to prevent the same quick move, except this time to the left, for Alex Mann’s score which made it 26-27, having been 0-27 down.

For Steve Borthwick, the England head coach and famous line-out anorak, the tape from Cardiff will provide plenty of detail. Wainwright was Wales’s primary outlet, winning six out of the nine throws when targeted mainly in the middle, and will no doubt be shadowed by Maro Itoje, England’s top line-out poacher.

Jenkins was a perfect five out of five when targeted and Wales’s best option at the front, another clue for England to look out for. Ollie Chessum matches Jenkins for height at 6ft 7in. Wales may attempt more deception by shifting around where Wainwright and Jenkins line up, but that comes with the risk of overcomplicating things.

When the line-out was in pieces towards the end of the first half, Wales could not create any kind of threat and Scotland looked comfortable. By simplifying their approach and bringing on Dee for Elias, they were more than able to compete.

If Wales are to win at Twickenham for the first time since 2015, they cannot afford for the line-out to start slowly.

Wales’s line-out v Scotland in numbers

Won: 14
Lost: 6

Wainwright: 6/9
Jenkins: 5/5
Beard: 3/5
T Williams: 0/1

First half: 6/11
Second: 8/9

Front: 7/9
Middle: 7/9
Overthrown (error): 2

Match footage courtesy of BBC Sport

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