It’s the same old song for Wales but they do hit some high notes
THE HOODOO continued as Wales suffered a 13th straight defeat to Australia who again emphasised their dominance over Warren Gatland’s side with a clinical display.
Tries from Tatafu PolotaNau, Adam Coleman, captain Michael Hooper and a crucial Kurtley Beale effort at the Principality Stadium enabled the visitors to extend their winning run in Cardiff which dates back to 2008.
Wales’ new attacking approach saw them score through a sublime Steffan Evans try and a late Hallam Amos effort, but as dangerous as they looked with ball in hand, Gatland’s side were also leaky without it.
It would have left the Kiwi head coach scratching his head, despite the fact there were positives – as well as negatives – to be taken from this encounter.
Gatland’s selection of Owen Williams and Evans behind the scrum gave Wales extra potency, but too many times Australia were allowed to power over the gain line. Bernard Foley kicked three conversions and Leigh Halfpenny booted 11 points, but it was the visitors who came out on top.
Gatland said: “I don’t think there was anything out there that showed we had a mental block against Australia, we were just architects of our own downfall.
“We were much better in the second half and we got stronger and stronger as the game went on. If Kurtley Beale hadn’t scored his try then we would have had a shot at a comeback.
“The message was patience and I thought our attacking game was pretty good. We will get better from this and improve for Georgia next week.”
The odds were stacked against Wales, even before kick-off. Back row injuries had forced Josh Navidi and Aaron Shingler into starting on the flank, while rookie centre Owen Williams began outside flyhalf Dan Biggar as Gatland opted for a twin playmaker system for the first time.
Evans also made his first home Test start on the left wing, with Leigh Halfpenny at full-back and Liam Williams completing the back three.
Gatland – who maintained in the build-up to this game that Wales are genuine contenders for the 2019 World Cup – changed his team’s approach with Williams alongside Biggar and Jonathan Davies in midfield.
It was a marked contrast with the past as the Kiwi head coach looked for his first ever opening autumn win in charge of Wales. It failed to materialise.
Australia, even without absent genius Israel Folau, proved too much for Wales to deal with in attack as Beale, Foley and man of the match Will Genia played starring roles.
The Wallabies – who fielded 13 starters from the team which beat New Zealand last month – were the dominant force despite an improved home display.
Wales, traditionally slow out of the blocks at this time of year, wanted a fast start. But they weren’t helped by running out to a sparsely populated Principality Stadium, increased security measures leading to large queues outside the ground which many struggled to bypass in time for kick-off.
When the game did begin, Liam Williams’ chargedown of a Reece Hodge kick gave Wales impetus and Halfpenny opened the scoring with a penalty after Polota-Nau was caught offside.
Australia soon hit back. Foley’s cross-kick targeted Evans and after he was bundled into touch, a driving Wallaby lineout proved unstoppable.
Polota-Nau emerged with the ball over the line and Foley converted to spark two more quick scores.
First, Evans went over for his third Test try. Gareth Davies’ electric break gave Wales momentum and the midfield combination of Biggar and Owen Williams spread the ball left for the Scarlets man to dive over in the corner.
It was a fine finish to a flowing team move, Halfpenny giving the final pass.
The full-back converted, but almost as soon as Wales were ahead, they relinquished their advantage. Australia went straight back up the other end to score.
Evans did well to scramble away some danger, but Michael Cheika’s men bashed away and Genia’s flat pass gave Coleman an easy finish.
Foley nailed the extras. Wales, in their search for a greater attacking threat, did look more dangerous than they have done so in the past. But they also made some basic errors and struggled to bring down Australia’s powerful ball carriers and stop quick Wallaby ball.
The result was a 22-13 half-time lead for the visitors, Hodge’s monster penalty from wide out responded to from one by Halfpenny before Hooper dived over.
It was another simple score for the visitors, the men in green and gold smashing the ball up the middle down before changing direction. Hooper was the beneficiary, making the most of indecision from Evans to make his way to the line despite the attention of three Welsh tacklers.
Wales had plenty of ball at the start of the second period, without making a decisive breakthrough. Halfpenny kicked a simple penalty to narrow their deficit, but pushed a monster effort from halfway narrowly wide.
Still, the home team looked dangerous in possession with the two Davies’ lively, as was their Scarlets team-mate Evans. But just after the hour mark, Beale broke Welsh hearts.
As he had done here in
2012, the full-back crossed for a game-defining try. With Wales in possession, Evans carried forward and the hosts felt he was tackled high by Tevita Kuridrani. Glen Jackson failed to blow and Beale stripped the ball for an easy 50-metre run to the line.
Foley converted to make it 29-16 and with that, the game was done.
Wales had just 37 caps of experience on their bench and in contrast, Australia boasted 293.
Gatland still unloaded his fresh legs and Amos replaced the excellent Evans, while Owen Watkin stepped in for Owen Williams. Sam Cross and Leon Brown also won their first caps and Wales were given a sniff of a comeback when Hooper was yellow carded for entering a ruck from the side.
With a numerical advantage, Wales bashed away and captain Alun Wyn Jones was one to go close. Finally, a second try arrived.
Jonathan Davies kicked the ball to the corner and Amos collected to acrobatically dive over.
It was a positive finish to a game in which Wales had their moments, but by that time Gatland’s men had already paid the price for not converting their chances.
Screamer: Adam Coleman is ecstatic after scoring the second try for Australia
Sniper: Gareth Davies cuts through the defence
Late show: Hallam Amos dives in for the second Wales try in the last minute
Crucial try: Kurtley Beale scores Australia’s fourth