It’s a familiar script: Wales start lame, get back into the game, give up ground, turn it around, and get knocked out in the closing stages. For this latest 33-28 defeat to Australia, see most of the last 10—Wales have been in a glorious position to win, but somehow conspired to lose. That record against the big three is now 21 successive defeats. We’ve seen it all before: the poor decision-making, poor game management—an inability to close out games from winning positions. How many Wales fans backed Australia to win or called it by seven or fewer? Probably more than a few, and there’d be many more who don’t gamble who would have predicted the same, given that the last five defeats to the Wallabies have been by five or fewer. Until the current squad delivers a win against the southern hemisphere big three, the talk will always be of failure. Getting to the 2011 Rugby World Cup semi-final, Grand Slam successes, even the involvement of many Wales players on the British and Irish Lions tour of 2013—they’re just former glories that are exactly that, even if many current players were involved back then. There were some positives against Australia, not least that Wales outscored Australia by four tries to three, but that counts for little in defeat. Contrary to popular belief, tries don’t always win matches. It’s being stronger mentally when it counts that does, and right now, as in the last six years, Wales continually come up short. If it continues, don’t expect Wales to make it out of their Rugby World Cup match next year. Warren Gatland and his fellow coaches have a huge job on their hands to solve this and time is running out. The skills and ability are there, but the players lack a mental sharpness and ruthless edge. If they can’t beat Australia in an autumn international, which counts for nothing more than ranking points and bragging rights, how can they possibly do it on the biggest stage in world rugby? Gatland may have a contract until after the 2019 Rugby World Cup, but the Wales head coach could be out of a job this time next year.
If you didn’t know, new Australia head coach Michael Cheika is a bit special. He’s the only head coach to win a major title in the northern and southern hemispheres, with Leinster and NSW Waratahs. That Waratahs title—their first Super Rugby title—came in August this year. He set aside any mind games ahead of the match with talk of the Rugby World Cup. Six Waratahs boys made the starting XV, including Bernard Foley, the iceman outside-half who landed 18 points and iced the win for the Wallabies with nerveless kicking in the final 10 minutes, including a drop-goal with seven minutes to go—something the Wallabies admitted they don’t practice. Two first-half tries from full-back Israel Folau—another Waratahs boy—came at the right time as he ended a personal try-scoring drought that had gone through four Tests. Still, 17 tries in 26 internationals is a handy return. Including last week’s win over the Barbarians win at Twickenham, Cheika has got off to a great start in his international coaching career, and he has plenty of talent still to bring in from the sidelines should he wish.
As so often, it was the backs who made the headline plays, but the forwards were again the unsung heroes as defensive mistakes came from the Ospreys half-back duo in the first half which gifted the Aussies tries. Wales captain Sam Warburton made an early statement with a turnover and pass in the move that sent scrum-half through for the first try of the match, and he had a huge battle with his opposite number Michael Hooper. His ball carrying was also impressive. His managed game time as a result of his dual contract with the WRU looks to be paying off. Scarlets lock Jake Ball—or Ballsack as BBC Sport had him on the teamsheet at one point before the match—also had a storming game, which earned him the man of the match, alongside Alun Wyn Jones, who got in on the try-scoring action. Another Scarlet, Samson Lee again proved why he has replaced veteran Adam Jones as Welsh rugby’s premier tighthead, hooker Richard Hibbard was also on top of his game after his return from injury, while replacement loosehead Gethin Jenkins, and Hibbard’s understudy Scott Baldwin, came off the bench to make an already impressive scrum even more impressive, especially en route to a penalty try in the second half which had Wales 28-27 ahead.
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