Davies injury and Beale try leave Wales cursing luck
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 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.
“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 to spot Kurtley Beale’s knock-on just before he cantered clear for the breakaway try that killed off their hopes.
Wales were commendably sanguine, 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 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.
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.
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.
The fourth try did put the game beyond Wales’s reach – and it shouldn’t have stood. Slow-motion replays clearly showed Beale 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.
Jonathan Davies could miss the rest of the autumn series with an ankle injury
All the talk in the buildup to the start of England’s autumn internationals was how they would perform without Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje. But the biggest miss for Eddie Jones was Billy Vunipola. Eddie was spot on when he said England didn’t click, but while I thought a lack of cohesion would be understandable there was a fair bit more of it than I expected. Vunipola’s absence is massive in that respect. Billy gives you 15-20 carries a game, it’s always over the gain line, and when you don’t have someone doing that it means you don’t have enough front-foot ball.
At times England looked good; when George Ford was able to get on the front foot he could bring players into the game,