Wales go from Six Nations Grand Slam to slump... again

 

History does not record the name of the wise person who uttered the immortal phrase: "You're a rooster one day, a feather duster the next."

And whoever it was would surely not have had Welsh rugby's fortunes in mind.

But the adage aptly sums up the feeling among Welsh players, management, pundits and fans as they consider a fourth defeat by Samoa and third in Cardiff.

The very fact that Samoa had twice before won at Welsh rugby's home - at the 1991 and 1999 World Cups - could hardly allow anyone to consider the latest defeat by the Islanders to be a shock.

Another serious blow for Welsh rugby to contend with, perhaps, but not a shock when the history of games between the two nations now sees the men in red 5-4 ahead in matches.

However, in the wake of the 26-12 loss to Argentina that kicked of Wales' autumn campaign, it was not the follow up the nation expected or is likely to accept.

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The players with the experience - the Gethin Jenkinses, the Sam Warburtons, the Jamie Robertses - the players who have put themselves in a position to be leaders in this team - need to stand up

Gareth Thomas Former Wales captain

However, Welsh rugby has been in this position before - and recently to boot.

In 2005 Wales secured a Grand Slam. A year later the coach of that team, Mike Ruddock, left amid a rumpus that prompted the Welsh Rugby Union's leading officials to go on tour around the nation's clubs and districts to - successfully - head off a potential rebellion.

After that issue was smoothed over, inconsistency continued to bedevil Wales until the 2007 World Cup which ended in a pool defeat by Fiji that brought down Gareth Jenkins' reign as national coach.

Under a year after that, with Warren Gatland taking charge of his first Six Nations campaign, Wales won another Grand Slam.

And yet again 2009 offered rather fewer reasons for Welsh fans to be cheerful. And now, in 2012, Wales are at it again, dropping down the IRB World Rankings at the worst possible time.

Having seen their 2015 World Cup seeding hopes dented by the Pumas and Islanders, holders New Zealand are the next visitors to Cardiff with Australia to follow seven days later.

Gatland, of course, was not in charge for the two losses and returns to oversee Welsh efforts against the All Blacks and Wallabies.

After that Howley is scheduled to guide Wales through their Six Nations title defence while Gatland concentrates on his work as 2013 British and Irish Lions coach to Australia.

Even now, some of the leading Welsh playing candidates to be on that trip, are watching their stock on the global stage fall.

And for former skipper Gareth Thomas, it is high time stars of the 2009 Lions tour to South Africa such as Jamie Roberts and Gethin Jenkins provided some evidence that they can help redeem some Welsh pride.

He would also like to see Sam Warburton again rise to the challenge of the captaincy, albeit a role he ceded to Ryan Jones in Friday's match squad with the former coming off the bench in the second-half.

Thomas, one of two players to lead Wales during the 2005 Grand Slam campaign, knows all about the fluctuating fortunes his nation is prone to suffer.

After all, he was also skipper on that fateful 2007 day Wales lost to Fiji in Nantes, winning his 100th and final cap in the process.

In the immediate aftermath of Friday's setback, Scrum V pundit Thomas admitted he would rather be somewhere else than being obliged to pass judgement on some former team-mates.

Wales were second best - Jones

But as with his on-field performances of old, Alfie, as he is known, held nothing back.

"Where do we go from here?," he pondered.

"I don't know because we've gone backwards and we need to start going forwards again.

"And with New Zealand coming here next week on the back of this, actually I'm glad New Zealand are coming here because we know that we have to be up there just to be able to compete.

"So we know that we can't play at a level like this.

"So the mindset of the boys after this will have to go up because I'm sitting here, as a Welsh fan now, and as a player I've been out there and lost to Samoa and I know what it feels like.

"But I think the team came into this and the fans, everyone came into this with a lot more confidence than I've gone into games with before and I am absolutely gutted.

"We made changes on last week's team for this week's team to try and give us a fighting chance.

"I just think that the players with the experience - the Gethin Jenkinses, the Sam Warburtons, the Jamie Robertses - the players who have put themselves in a position to be leaders in this team - need to stand up.

"They need to get up there and say, "okay, I'm taking the ball, give me the ball, come on run at me, I'll show you a tackle, get behind me, support me, follow me", instead of… saying "I'm this, I'm that, I can do whatever I want".

"You can't. You get out there and put your jersey on… and play with a bit of hwyl* and respect."

(*hwyl - Welsh term for passion, pride and gusto)