It is 10 years since Wales suffered three successive Six Nations defeats, but after losing to England and Scotland, they are in danger of their lowest finish in the tournament since 2007. Victory against Ireland in Cardiff on Friday night is essential not only to enhance the fading Lions prospects of some players but to prevent calls for a coaching overhaul from reaching fever pitch.

If Wales win, England must beat Scotland the following day at Twickenham to retain the title with one round of matches to go. But the title’s destiny is of no concern to a team looking to salvage its campaign and re-establish a reputation that is in danger of fading to sepia.

“It is a huge, must-win game for us,” says the Wales prop Rob Evans. “We are looking forward to putting things right against Ireland.” The question is how.

Wales had enough of the play in Scotland, especially in the first half, to have won the match comfortably, as had been the case against England, but a combined total of three second-half points in those matches left them vulnerable to a comeback and their inability to turn opportunities into tries again cost them.

Wales are struggling to evolve from the largely one-dimensional team that won the Six Nations in 2012 and 2013 into a side with a sharper cutting edge. It is not so much intent that is lacking as aptitude. “Wales were too predictable,” said the former Scotland captain Andy Nicol after Murrayfield. “They had no variety in attack.”

Four years ago, Wales supplied 15 players to the Lions tour of Australia and 10 of them started the decisive final Test. They will be lucky to have much more than one third of that number in New Zealand this summer with only Liam Williams and Rhys Webb offering any wit and invention behind.

The Wales forwards coach, Robin McBryde, has said that players needed to raise their game if they wanted to make the tour. The wing George North is one, the dominant figure Down Under four years ago now making little impact, the centre Jonathan Davies another. Leigh Halfpenny attacked with menace in the third Test, but now he is a full-back who tackles and, most of the time, kicks goals.

While the other teams in the Six Nations are generally prepared to have a go in their own half, Wales tend to kick. They are not scoring enough tries or points and the decision to keep the outside-half Sam Davies, who helped create three tries against Italy, on the bench until 12 minutes before the end in Scotland while bringing on a more defensive player, Jamie Roberts, was baffling. If Wales do not trust Davies, why have him in the 23? His partnership with the centre Scott Williams in Rome looked to point the way ahead, but at Murrayfield Williams was used to take the ball up more than put it through his hands.

Wales are likely to revert to what they are comfortable with against Irelandas they seek the win that will keep them in the top eight of the rankings for May’s World Cup draw, but they are falling backwards as the circle of a successful era joins up.

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