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Sport: The questions Wales have failed to answer this autumn and the player they've missed the most

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A fortune teller isn’t needed to predict Wales will have their work cut out to successfully defend their Six Nations title.

They defeated Australia on Saturday, but let’s be clear: If the Wallabies had been able to keep a full complement of players on the pitch for 80 minutes, they would have left Cardiff with the spoils, potentially by a significant margin.

Even when down to 13 men, they looked more creative and enterprising than Wales. Even with a seven-man pack they still pushed the Welsh scrum all over the place.

It’s a concern because the Wallabies are in Wales’ World Cup group, along with Fiji, who Wayne Pivac's team struggled against six days earlier. If his team are to make headway in the tournament in France, the coach needs to start bringing about big improvements.

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In the short term, the Six Nations looks hugely challenging.

France and Ireland have beaten New Zealand this autumn, while England edged out South Africa. Wales have to go to Twickenham and Dublin in this year’s Six Nations and both games will be major tests, as will the French match in Cardiff.

I accept Wales have had serious injury problems that would have weakened any team, but there are still many questions that remain unanswered after the recent Tests, then.

Let’s start up front.

What can be done about the Welsh scrum?

To say it hasn’t been impressive is to deal in serious understatement.

Wales were smashed by South Africa and Australia at the set-piece, and creaked more than a bit against New Zealand and Fiji.

What made it especially worrying against the Wallabies was that Pivac’s team contained Wyn Jones and Tomas Francis, the only two recognised scrummagers Wales have in the front row. Both players appeared under the pump at times and the concern for the coaches is there are no obvious candidates putting pressure on them.

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Rhys Carre shows up around the field but has a long way to go to make it as a Test-class scrummager. The same goes for Dillon Lewis. Similarly, questions have been raised over Leon Brown’s scrummaging.

I don’t know what the situation is with Nicky Smith.

Wales dropped him, perhaps looking for a response and it appeared to come with a couple of solid displays for the Ospreys. But he’s started only three Tests throughout the Pivac era, with two of those coming last summer when Wyn Jones was away with the Lions.

Whether he’d have made much of a difference against Australia is debatable, but Wales can’t afford to just sit back and hope their scrum problems simply go away. I’ll remind you of a quote attributed to Einstein: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Something different has to be done, then, to get different results.

Does that mean bringing in a scrum coach, someone like Adam Jones, perhaps? He’s earning big reviews for his work with Harlequins and is very much in tune with the modern game and players.

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Sometimes, a fresh eye can pick up things that have been missed.

Is it a technical problem with Wyn Jones? Or has he just had a disrupted start to the campaign after the Lions tour and his wedding?

Whatever it is, Wales and the Scarlets need to work with him to get him right.

He was up against a monster of a man in Taniela Tupou, but technique can beat size in a front-row battle and Jones has long been considered a good technician.

Anyway, he’ll know there are big improvements to make in the coming weeks.

What’s happening at scrum-half?

Pivac deserves credit for finally giving a run of games to one player in the key No. 9 position. There has been too much chopping and changing here over the past two years with no-one able to gain confidence from playing regularly at Test level.

I still think Tomos Williams has a lot of potential.

But there has to come a time when that’s translated into sustained excellence on the field.

I looked at Nic White playing for Australia and was hugely impressed. His service was razor sharp from the base of the scrum, allowing Australia time and space to get their decoy runners into play and threaten Wales.

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It’s that mastery of the basics that Wales need before anything else.

We know Williams is capable, but he seems hesitant at times and that’s not good for a Test scrum-half. You look at Faf de Klerk playing for South Africa and there is no indecision. If he doesn’t box-kick or go himself, the ball is sped away before anyone in the opposition ranks can do a thing about it.

What’s going on in the centre?

Does Pivac know what he wants in midfield?

I thought Wales would use Jonathan Davies at inside centre in readiness for George North coming back for the Six Nations. My thinking was that Davies could then offer the big man the benefit of his experience.

But Davies was left out — or rotated, as Pivac would prefer to call it — for the final two games this autumn, with others tried in his place.

Johnny Williams and Willis Halaholo both had a go at No. 12 while Nick Tompkins lined up outside them. Wales were even looking to try Josh Adams at outside centre only for injury to intervene.

Tompkins has had a decent campaign but only Pivac will know if he’s truly happy with the way the situation is shaping up in the centre.

Wales have missed Taulupe Faletau at his very best © Huw Evans Picture Agency Wales have missed Taulupe Faletau at his very best

How to keep Taulupe Faletau fit — and Alun Wyn Jones ?

For me, Wales have found it hard to cover for Taulupe Faletau this autumn.

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At his very best he is the man they have missed the most.

No disrespect to Aaron Wainwright, who’s battled hard in every game he’s played, but Faletau is one of the top No. 8s in the world at the base of a retreating scrum. He still manages to go forward and he rarely loses possession. I've seen him in the past gather poor ball from the back of a crumpling set-piece and turn it into clean ball. For a team with a misfiring set-piece, that's a rare gift indeed.

Justin Tipuric, Josh Navidi and Ross Moriarty have also been sidelined, but Wales don’t have any shortage of flankers whereas we are less blessed in the middle of the back-row

It’ll be up to all concerned to force their way back into the team.

If Taine Basham has had a fine autumn, and he has, it goes without saying that Tipuric has a huge amount to offer, too. I like the way he keeps playing to the final whistle, I like his toughness and stoicism, I like the way he organises the defence. He just gets on with it, doing his job and not complaining. For any team to have a player like that is a plus.

What of skipper Jones? His leadership has been missed, the way he galvanises those around him. Some things are priceless in rugby and good captaincy is among them.

Sadly for Wales, it doesn’t look as if he’ll be around for the Six Nations because of his injury.

It’s another thing for Pivac to mull over in the coming weeks.

The coach has a lot of thinking to do.

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