Nick Tompkins has apologised to supporters for the lack of attacking rugby in the Autumn Nations Cup, blaming the post-lockdown emphasis on making the breakdown more of a contest for possession for the safety-first tactics that have meant teams taking to the air.
The Wales centre touched the ball only eight times during Wales’s 24-13 defeat to England in Llanelli on Saturday, with Dan Biggar at fly-half kicking the ball more often than he passed it, as both teams preferred to punt for territory in their own half rather than move the ball.
“I worry more about winning a game than I do about giving a performance to spectators, but I totally understand where they are coming from,” said Tompkins. “I want to get the ball in hand and pass and play attacking rugby, but at the end of the day Test rugby is about winning.
“You do that however you can. Sometimes the rules shift and what we have now happens. We have to adapt but I understand where the arguments are coming from because I feel it myself sometimes. We have to keep looking at the rules and making decisions to ensure that everything is fluid and we should be able to change things. As changes are brought in so you should be able to take them out.”
Rugby was blighted by a kicking bombardment in the early 2010s after the authorities tweaked the emphasis at the breakdown in a response to attacking teams being able to recycle the ball continually. Sides stopped playing within 60 metres of their line and took to the air, much like they have this month.
“I believe the new rules have made it a lot harder to attack,” said Tompkins. “Referees are quick to award penalties for holding on and it makes you kick the ball more to put a team under pressure. You could argue that we have to get better at retaining possession and it is frustrating as a back. You have to be able to adjust, but I admit I was sore after the match after a lot of running after kicks.”
Wales fronted up against England but still fell to their seventh successive defeat against a tier one nation. It left them third in their group and a date with Italy at Parc y Scarlets on Saturday evening in a battle for fifth place in the tournament, which is where they finished in this year’s Six Nations.
“It was a lot better,” said Tompkins. “Our game management was really good and we failed to capitalise on a couple of chances. We are not happy that we lost, but England are ranked number two in the world and you have to take the positives out of the performance.
“If we keep pounding away, the rock will crack. We know that if we get into positions, we will be very dangerous. Mistakes have been our undoing and we feel like we are shooting ourselves in the foot. It starts with the set piece and we have to shore that up.”