Gatland’s boys unveil new tricks but Beale’s sleight of hand tops bill again
As part of their pre-match entertainment, the Wales management treated their squad to an evening in the company of a magician duly appreciated by a team eager to rediscover its wizardry.
Heaven knows a disappearing act on Australia after 12 straight defeats had been long overdue. How ironic, that a tremendous Test match should end with Wales the unsuspecting victims of a sleight of hand which was being argued about last night into the small hours.
Kurtley Beale’s impres- impersonation of a conjuror took the Wallabies’ winning streak to 13. Like a gambler going for the one card to complete a full suit of diamonds, he left Wales bamboozled, bemused and bothered in equal measure just as they threatened to run the Wallabies off their feet.
Having spirited the ball clean out of Steff Evans’ grasp, Beale then scorched away on a long solo run to touch down behind the posts by which time he had left the entire Wales team hopelessly lost in a puff of smoke. It was all done in the blink of eye that even Glen Jackson suspected there must have been something more about it than met his eye, never mind everyone else’s.
The New Zealand referee put it in the hands of the TMO, his suspicion no doubt heightened by the rapidity with which Beale drop-kicked the conversion. Examination of the video for any sign of a knock-on having found none, Jackson duly confirmed a try which effectively put Australia out of reach at 29-16.
Further forensic evidence made a case, albeit a less than convincing one, that Beale had fumbled the ball in the process of robbing Evans. By then Beale’s bewildering architecture of another Aussie win was winging its way into Wallaby folklore.
If they didn’t quite
Glory be, a Welsh team playing in the traditinal way and with discipline
manage it on the scoreboard, Wales could claim a win of sorts. At last they had broken the mould, realising at last that their one-dimensional power game had long been obsolete. They replaced it with a running and handling game played at a pace which for 20 minutes in the second half the Wallabies were hard pushed to live with.
Glory be, a Welsh team playing in the traditional Welsh way and with discipline so good that they conceded a mere three penalties. Nor could anyone dare accuse them of lacking heart from the moment that Beale’s spin of the wheel had stacked the odds against them.
In one match they produced more wit and invention last night than throughout last season. They rattled the Wallabies to such an extent that their more fancied opponents couldn’t cope with the red waves rolling in from all angles without paying a price.
Michael Hooper’s sinbinning 12 minutes gave Wales more than the whiff of a famous victory. As their skipper squirmed on the naughty chair, his beleaguered team somehow held out, their heroic defending aided and abetted by a lack of Welsh
composure when they needed it most.
Alun-Wyn Jones lost the ball in lunging for the line and Hooper had no sooner come back than substitute hooker Kristian Dacey stretched an arm only to find himself inches short. Wales still had enough left for the final word, Hallam Amos winning a hairline TMO decision with a terrific finish only minutes after replacing Evans.
For once, Wales provided their fans with reason to believe that they have changed their ways, acknowledging, however belatedly, that the game requires running round opponents rather than through them.
In that respect Owen Williams fully justified his selection in the position long occupied by the block-busting Jamie
At last Wales found honour in defeat, a stark contrast to the surrender last year
Roberts. He did more than enough to continue at inside centre one stop outside Dan Biggar and strengthen the fervent hope that their 10-12 combination may yet prove to be the most creative since Stephen Jones and Gavin Henson in 2005.
In the cold light of Monday morning, they will not have to look far for the reasons why they have made a losing start, as they have done to every autumn series since almost the advent of the 21st century. Mistakes proved costly.
Evans, debut long overdue, will be all the wiser for having experienced the highs and lows of Test football. Having introduced himself by rounding off a dazzling eight-pass attack with an excellent finish, the Scarlet then had a hand, or more accurately a foot in three of the Aussie tries.
Bernard Foley’s devilishly clever punt to the corner forced Evans to concede the throw from which Hooper’s pack mauled their way over with alarming ease. The harsh lessons for Evans didn’t end there.
A loose kick fell invitingly in midfield, manna from heaven for a team whose half-backs, Will Genia and Foley, never missed a trick all night, rather like the magician who dropped into the Welsh team’s inner sanctum 48 hours earlier.
No sooner had Beale smuggled the ball from Evans than the new cap made way for Amos. A raft of substitutions followed as Wales kept their blitz at full throttle until the very end of an outstanding Test.
At least Wales found honour in defeat, a stark contrast to their pathetic surrender to the same opponents in the same stadium last year. But yet again they will be concerned about their inability to put undermanned opponents away.
When offered the most generous of helping hands, in the World Cup at Twickenham two years ago, Wales somehow found themselves incapable of taking advantage. The Wallabies could afford to have two of their team sitting together in the bin and still get away with it.
If Wales couldn’t beat 13 men, how could they hope to beat 15? The question had been asked ad infinitum since they last managed it, so long ago that the All Blacks were in the 20th year of waiting to recapture the World Cup.
Whenever Wales ran them close in the nine years since, they always contrived to come up short.
Beale’s last-minute try five years earlier ensured the closest call of all still went Australia’s way and so, in the final analysis, Wales discovered that the lessons of history need to be learned if they are not to be repeated.
Magician: Wallaby full-back Kurtley Beale