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The reasons Wales have turned it around in Six Nations and the hope offered for huge England Triple Crown clash

After all the doom and gloom of last year and the trepidation going into the Six Nations, things are now looking up for Wales, who are two from two after victories over Ireland and Scotland.

So, how have Wayne Pivac’s team turned it around and what are the reasons to be cheerful ahead of next week’s Triple Crown showdown with England in Cardiff?

Rugby correspondent Simon Thomas picks out six key areas of improvement.

Scrum bonus

We all knew the importance of props Tomas Francis and Wyn Jones staying fit, as the two seasoned strong scrummagers in the squad, and thankfully that has happened.

But the Scotland game provided a double whammy bonus.

Just as tighthead Francis began to creak a little, conceding a penalty, on came Leon Brown, with 62 minutes on the clock.

It was a daunting moment for the 24-year-old to enter the fray.

Wales were clinging on to a narrow 20-17 lead and under heavy pressure right in front of their posts, facing a defensive five metre scrum.

But Brown proved to be as solid as a rock, locking out the scrum despite the best efforts of Rory Sutherland.

A reset followed and the Dragons front rower stood firm once again.

He was a revelation.

You had the feeling it was a real breakthrough passage in his 14-cap career and a huge plus for Wales as it shows they have reliable back-up in that key, cornerstone position.

There was also the further bonus of Wyn Jones lasting 77 minutes over on the loosehead.

That’s pretty unheard of for a Test prop these days, but he managed it, showing his engine and fitness.

Given how well he is playing at the moment, not just in the scrum, but all facets of the game, every minute he stays on is a plus.

He was Man of the Match against Ireland and again appeared in most pundits’ Team of the Weekend after the win up in Murrayfield.

The scrum was Wales’ undoing against England in the autumn, but there is now good reason to be optimistic about them holding their own there next week.

Offloads

These were pretty rare commodities during Warren Gatland’s reign, when the attacking game plan tended to be pretty prosaic, based on power and building up the phases to wear defences down.

But we are now starting to see the Pivac-Jones Scarlets style taking shape, with Wales offloading the second most often in the tournament, only table-topping France ahead of them.

To be precise, they are producing an offload every 19 carries.

The free-wheeling French are doing it every nine carries, which is pretty remarkable and a joy to watch.

Wales aren’t at that level yet, but they are getting there in terms of their attacking ambition.

Compare them to Ireland, who are only offloading once every 54 carries!

So we are starting to see signs of the new Welsh way.

It’s clearly a bit of a high risk, high reward strategy, but the more you do it, the more confident you become and the ball tends to stick.

You saw a perfect illustration of what they are trying to do in one sequence during the final quarter against the Scots.

The game was hanging in the balance, but still the visitors went for it, backing themselves.

Owen Watkin started it off on halfway, shaping to pass out to James Botham, only to step inside and draw in two defenders.

Then, as he hit the deck, the centre popped the ball up one-handed to the supporting Leon Brown, who followed suit, delivering his own one-handed offload to fellow prop Wyn Jones as he was being tackled.

To employ this approach, you have to have belief in your own handling ability and in your pal being on your shoulder.

But when it works, it’s a real weapon, with Wales making some 25 metres in that sequence.

It’s clear Pivac-Jones are putting an emphasis on skillsets and keeping the ball. It’s starting to pay off and it’s good to watch.

Lineout transformation

What a turnaround!

Overnight, the Welsh lineout has gone from a major weakness to an area of strength.

Now, one swallow doesn’t make a summer, or a late winter for that matter.

But the signs were hugely encouraging up in Murrayfield.

Much of the credit for that must go to Adam Beard.

There was a lot of pressure on the 25-year-old going into the Scotland game, as Wales’ lineout caller.

Up to that point, they had lost 23 balls on their own throw in the seven previous Tests. Things were at crisis point.

His nerves must have been jangling even more when his first call – to Justin Tipuric at the tail – saw the ball sail over the head of the openside into the arms of opposite number Hamish Watson.

But to Beard’s credit, he kept his cool and went for a conservative approach. On the basis that front ball is better than no ball at all, he opted for a succession of calls to that area and it paid off.

He stood at the front himself as a target a couple of times, with Aaron Wainwright, Alun Wyn Jones and Tipuric also taking turns there.

The end result was banker ball and much-needed possession.

With the confidence growing, Beard then mixed things up, calling a couple to the middle and that worked just as smoothly.

Wales weren’t to lose another lineout in the course of the game, with huge credit also due to old head hooker Ken Owens for consistently hitting his jumpers.

But they weren’t just winning ball, they were making good use of it, with their driving maul emerging as a huge weapon.

Rather than a liability, the lineout was now suddenly a big positive.

So much so that it provided the platform for three tries.

For the first, just before the break, a Beard leap drew a maul penalty and when the ball was kicked into the corner, the Ospreys lock went up again at the front.

A mauling rumble drew an offence and with the referee playing advantage, Wales pulled the trigger out wide, with Louis Rees-Zammit delivering the finish.

The second score, on 50 minutes, was more heartening again.

With the confidence now flowing, Owens went long to Tipuric and the pack proceeded to march Scotland some 15 metres upfield with a fast-moving maul drive, which was followed by the strike attack that saw Liam Williams crossing.

They now had the wind in their lineout sails, as the third try four minutes later demonstrated.

Owens hit Beard at the front and was then the man in the van, carrying at the back of a lineout drive that went even faster and even further, galloping 20 metres upfield to the close-range position from which Wyn Jones forced his way over.

It was impressive stuff.

If you add in the two steals secured by Alun Wyn and Tipuric, it was a pretty exceptional day at the lineout office and such a transformation.

It all bodes well for the game against England, who were shown to be vulnerable in that set-piece during their defeat to Scotland.

A ripping yarn

Turnover ball is so precious in the modern game and particularly so for Pivac and Jones, whose Scarlets were so lethal on the counter-attack.

Winning turnovers at the breakdown is damn hard work given the ferocity of that contact area, while you tend to see jackal penalties more than clean steals.

All of which makes the rip such an appealing tactic.

It’s a really effective method of turning ball over in one v one situations and it’s a skill that Wales are clearly working on.

They are becoming increasingly adept at it, as demonstrated by two examples up in Murrayfield.

It’s a real strength of Owen Watkin’s game, with the 24-year-old taking a leaf out of the book of fellow Ospreys centre Scott Williams, who pulled off the most memorable Welsh rip of all time at Twickenham in 2012.

Watkin again showed his prowess in that department during the first-half, wrestling the ball out of the grasp of Scottish scrum-half Ali Price.

His technique is so good and it really is a skill of his and an important string to his bow.

Then, during the final quarter, with Wales clinging on to a narrow lead, replacement flanker James Botham followed suit.

As Scottish prop Oli Kebble carried the ball towards the Welsh 10 metre line, in swooped Botham and yanked the ball out of his hands.

It was a ripper of a rip.

The end result was Wales being able to relieve the pressure and hammer the ball way downfield.

You can expect to see them trying more of the same against England, because it really is such an effective ploy.

Looking forward to the next chapter of this ripping yarn.

Clinical attack

Wales have been criticised for lacking a cutting edge in attack at various points over the past decade.

It was an issue raised at various stages of the Gatland-Howley regime and then again in the autumn when Pivac’s team scored just six tries in their first five matches of the campaign.

But, so far during this Championship, they have been positively prolific in terms of converting time in the red zone into points.

The stats from Murrayfield are jaw-dropping.

They spent just 90 seconds in the Scottish 22 during the entire game, yet scored four tries!



Louis Rees-Zammit has been part of lethal Wales

That’s some return.

Three of the tries followed lineout drives – two clinical back-line strikes, featuring slick handling and sharp finishing, and a pick-and-go forward effort.

For the fourth, they were only in the opposition 22 for about three seconds.

That’s all the time Louis Rees Zammit needed to scorch that piece of turf for his chip and chase second.

In all, Wales have spent just 2 minutes 33 seconds in the opposition 22 during their opening two games and come away with six touchdowns.

With the attacking armoury at their disposal, it makes you wonder what they could with a bit more time there.

Let’s hope we find out against England next week.

Last-ditch defence

Now the first thing to say is the defence hasn’t been perfect.

There were a couple of missed tackles ahead of Tadhg Beirne’s touchdown for Ireland and there were issues again up in Edinburgh.

Scotland’s first two tries raised questions over Wales’ back-field vulnerability to kicks over the top, while their third was the product of misalignment behind and falling off a one-on-one tackle.

But what can’t be questioned is the attitude, the resolve or the determination.

The players are certainly putting their bodies on the line for new defence coach Gethin Jenkins.

That’s demonstrated by the number of tackles they have put in – no fewer than 428 in two matches.

It’s also been shown by the heroic passages on their own line. That comes down to desire above anything else.

Wales also dig deep until the very end. The two wins were reliant on last-ditch tackles in added time to stop tries – Tipuric on Garry Ringrose against Ireland and Watkin’s tap on Duhan van der Merwe versus the Scots.

Those were huge moments and indicative of a team that refused to be beaten.

When you combine that resolve with the physicality Wales are showing in the contact, then it does bode well for the England clash.

Scotland beat Eddie Jones’ team by targeting their two main ball carriers – Billy Vunipola and Ellis Genge – and stopping them in their tracks.

That’s a template Wales will need to follow if they are win in Cardiff next week.

Let’s see whose turn it is to pull off the injury-time clincher against 14 men this time!

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