There's as much gloom in the valleys as there is respect
and envy as the people of Wales appreciate that while they
can't find the right man to wear the No 10 shirt, the All
Modern rugby has evolved into an overly complex game which
has only added to the pressure thrust on first five-eighths.
Get the right player, get the right performances, get the
right results. It's irrefutable, and might it now be true
that the All Blacks, in Daniel Carter, have the only truly
capable No 10 in the world game.
The Welsh wouldn't disagree. Their descent into chaos these
past few weeks has coincided with a loss of confidence in
their various No 10s. This is a nation that once led the
world in creative genius - a country that once it had
produced Barry John and Phil Bennett, expected every other
first-five to be cut from the same cloth.
A rugby nation to the core, the Welsh believe deeply in the
cult of the No 10. They know that the attacking prowess, the
rhythm and flow are mostly guided and facilitated by the
decisions and skills of the first-five.
Against Argentina they saw Rhys Priestland play like a robot
- jerky movements and decisions that appeared pre-programmed.
Dan Biggar didn't do much better against Samoa before injury
forced Priestland back out for more soul-destroying
But it's not only the Welsh who can't find their play-making
maestro. England had 35 minutes of territorial and possession
dominance against Australia and yet couldn't conjure a try.
Toby Flood was the conductor, yet he was hardly ever on the
Scotland suffered much the same fate against South Africa
when Greig Laidlaw couldn't find the right strings to pull,
and while Johnny Sexton is seen as the chosen one in Ireland,
results don't support that theory.
It looks to everyone as though the All Blacks are playing a
different type of rugby, that they operate with different
intentions, better ideas and more purpose.
And that's largely because they are, and largely because in
Carter, they have the raw materials to build a more potent
"A lot of what a No 10 does has a big impact on attack. I
don't think that has changed," says All Blacks assistant
coach Ian Foster.
"I think what has changed, because of the requirements of the
pace of the game - multi-phases, lots of rucks - is where the
communication comes from for the 10 to make those decisions.
"In the past - and I'm talking a while ago - the 10 would
call everything and everyone would do what they said.
"Now the game is too dynamic so 10s get a lot of information
from the players outside them and around them about what's on
and then their ability to respond quickly to that information
is ultimately the key."
Other first-fives are swamped by the deluge of information;
Carter is able to process it into a meaningful blueprint.
His basic skills are often cited as the difference, but while
they are outstanding, it is his ability to use them - to
reach for the right play time after time - that is the
It's a given that a test first-five will have the portfolio
of handling, kicking and running skills. Priestland, Biggar,
Flood, Laidlaw and Sexton tick the individual boxes, have the
component parts. But what they don't have is the instruction
sheet on how to assemble them into something deadly.
"What Daniel is, is a master at his ability to receive lots
of information and then make good decisions very quickly,"
says Foster. "And so, is it a point of difference? Yes it is.
But it is not that he has some kind of magic formula that
"It's his experience - he has been around a long time at this
level, he understands the game clearly, plus he understands
our players and how we play, so he makes very good decisions
with the information he gets fed."
The view in Wales is that they stand a chance of winning only
if Priestland can be coaxed into some kind of form.
The forwards can be stirred up into a frenzy and persuaded to
die for the cause for 80 minutes. Parity in the set-piece and
collisions is achievable for Wales. But what then? No side
can beat the All Blacks with possession alone - it has to be
converted into points and this is where doubts exist.
Priestland's confidence is on the floor and how will he feel
seeing the world's best in the other team, in imperious form.
It will be intimidating and salutary, no doubt, but if these
young contenders are ever going to become something, they
have to be given the chance.
"We could have picked someone else there but there are
certain players we need to support," said Wales coach Warren
"We see an incredibly talented player who is just not playing
quite as well as he can at the moment and we back him."
- By Gregor Paul of the Herald on Sunday in Cardiff