Authors: Rio Sports
One might have thought all would be overshadowed by a 13th consecutive defeat against opponents who, while unquestionably better, are not in a different league, but the prospect of losing Jonathan Davies for the rest of this autumn series hung heavier over the Wales camp.
As if they did not already know it had not been their day against Australia – again – such a feeling was reinforced when Davies went down in the last play of the game, seeming to twist his ankle in a tackle. He received treatment after the final whistle, and the look on his face as he was carted off was not encouraging. He finished the evening strapped up and on crutches. Warren Gatland admitted his situation “doesn’t look brilliant”.
His loss would be a terrible blow when the All Blacks come to town the weekend after next. Wales are as in transition as any team in this midpoint between World Cups, and are without a host of key personnel anyway. Davies’s presence in a post‑Jamie Roberts midfield feels vital to the smoothness of that transition.
Not only are Australia not in a different league from Wales, they are in the same pool, for the second time running, at the next World Cup, which ought to make the relentless familiarity of Wales’s results against them cause more than a little concern. Gatland and his captain, Alun Wyn Jones, insisted that there was no mental block. Indeed, the mood was, on balance, positive, such was the promise of much of Wales’s approach play, their handling failing them on a few occasions as the call for the killer blow approached.
“I think there is a lot be excited about,” said Jake Ball, Jones’s second-row partner. “There has been a freshness among the squad, new guys bringing new things.”
Certainly, Wales know what it is to be unlucky against Australia, even if the regularity of their misfortune suggests something else is at work. This time they had cause to curse the failure of the officials, including the TMO, to spot Kurtley Beale’s knock-on just before he cantered clear for the breakaway try that killed off their hopes of overturning what was then a six-point lead.
Wales were commendably sanguine about the whole affair, Gatland rightly describing it as a “freak try”. Instead, they preferred to focus on their own mistakes, while remaining positive about the subtler layers developing in their attacking game. “There were some errors in our 22 that probably cost us the game,” Ball said. “I don’t think there was a big difference between the two of us. We probably pushed a few offloads. We are trying to develop that bit of X‑factor, but I think there is a point to going through the phases. When we did that we achieved some good things.”
Ultimately, what elevated Australia, as ever, was the conversion of chances. Like Wales, they were experimenting with their midfield, in their case packing it with heavy cavalry, but it remains their consummate ball players who wield the influence. Beale, withdrawn from centre to full-back in the absence of Israel Folau, secured the game with his brilliant devilry at the start of the final quarter, scoring his controversial try by burgling the ball from Steff Evans, who was otherwise excellent, finishing the try of the day on his first home appearance.
Australia’s half-backs, Will Genia and Bernard Foley, had masterminded three first-half tries, the highlight being Genia’s beautiful flat pass to pick out Adam Coleman for the second, after Foley’s wicked improvised chip had created havoc in Wales’s defence. Another brilliant Foley kick had set up the lineout and drive from which Australia scored their first, while all three ball-players played a part in the third, on the stroke of half-time.
In between the first and second tries, Wales replied with a beauty of their own, which earned them a brief lead, Evans finishing sharply after Gareth Davies’s break had set up a position from which neat hands conveyed the ball to Evans’s wing. It will be of some concern that it was not until two minutes from time that they managed it again, Hallam Amos squeezing into the corner, having replaced the limping Evans after Beale’s burglary.
That fourth Aussie try did put the game beyond Wales’s reach – and it shouldn’t have stood. Beale knew it, drop-kicking the conversion before the ref had awarded the try. Later, slow-motion replays, which did not appear to be available to the TMO, clearly showed he had dropped the ball for a split-second after smuggling it from Evans’s grasp. Beale was lucky, but he was witty too, the whole incident a series of outrageous unorthodoxies. Wales must learn to make their own luck in the same way.
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