Wales vs Tonga

Wales vs Tonga: A memorable episode of Only Fools and Horses saw the inimitable Rodney Trotter lament: “I’ve got this horrible feeling that if there’s such a thing as reincarnation, knowing my luck I’ll come back as me.”

At one point in their lives, Ryan Jones, George North and Paul James could have been forgiven for feeling the same way. The two forwards lined up three years running in an autumn series game against a Pacific island nation, with North going one better and making it four in a row.

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The matches were brutal.

In 2010, Warren Gatland’s team picked up more bruises than points against Fiji as they were bashed about and forced to settle for a 16-16 draw, but that was a mere pillow fight compared with the outing against Samoa a year later, when Richard Hibbard and Dan Biggar had their senses scrambled by challenges that might have merited the attention of the video ref at the Battle of Hastings.

Making matters worse for the hosts that night, they fell to a 26-19 defeat.

Nor were Tonga exactly playing touch rugby when they visited Cardiff in 2013, a match the home side again found hard going.

What is it with Wales and these November games against so-called lesser opposition?

And it isn’t just island nations who cause problems, with countries such as Georgia and Japan also having troubled Warren Gatland’s men at this time of year.

SECOND-TIER SYNDROME

Call it second-tier syndrome, perhaps.

Indeed, in eight autumn games against second-tier teams during the Gatland era, Wales have won only two by double-figure points margins.

Sometimes, they have simply made so many changes that continuity has been affected and their lack of depth has been exposed.

That happened against Georgia last year when Gatland kept just one player from the previous week and saw his side labour to a 13-6 win.

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