Wales thwarted by Aus­tralia again

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Rugby Union - By James Cor­ri­gan at the Prin­ci­pal­ity Sta­dium

There was very lit­tle un­lucky with this 13. In the pre­vi­ous dozen de­feats in suc­ces­sion to Aus­tralia, there were times when Wales had ev­ery right to look to the heav­ens. Not this time, not even be­cause of Kurt­ley Beale’s sup­pos­edly for­tu­itous try.

War­ren Gat­land’s men were far from hu­mil­i­ated here but then again, their nine-year un­suc­cess­ful Wallaby run has long gone past the red-faced.

An­thony Joshua’s world cham­pi­onship win against Car­los Takam was the last sport­ing event to hap­pen here in the Prin­ci­pal­ity Sta­dium, and, two weeks on, es­sen­tially it was a sim­i­lar story. A class op­po­nent do­ing as much as was nec­es­sary against a wannabe.

Like Takam, Wales left telling them­selves they could hold their held up high; and maybe even be­liev­ing they had been pre­sented with a pop at glory. Yet, es­sen­tially, deep down, they are won­der­ing how they can pos­si­bly breach this gap be­fore the World Cup in two years.

In­evitably, Gat­land pre­sented a pos­i­tive front. “We are ob­vi­ously dis­ap­pointed in terms of the re­sult – we were ar­chi­tects of our own down­fall by mak­ing it too easy for them early on,” he said. “But as the game wore on we were ap­ply­ing a lot of pres­sure – and if it hadn’t been for a freak­ish sec­ond-half try, I think we might well have gone on to win it.”

Well, they are used to see­ing four tries shipped past them in the open­ing match of the au­tumn se­ries. The last time Wales won an open­ing game in the fall was in 2002 – against Ro­ma­nia. Maybe some­one needs a word with the fix­ture sec­re­tary.

It should not be all doom and gloom, how­ever. Gat­land, through in­jury and a view to the next World Cup, felt obliged to play an am­bi­tious 15 and they did a damn sight bet­ter than last year’s 32-8 hum­bling to the same op­po­si­tion 12 months ago.

Wales were with­out the likes of Sam War­bur­ton, Ross Mo­ri­arty, George North, Justin Tipuric and oth­ers such as Sam­son Lee. And the Owen Wil­liams ex­per­i­ment ap­peared to work, if noth­ing else. Much was said about the fly­half ’s se­lec­tion at in­side cen­tre and the ben­e­fits in em­ploy­ing a sec­ond fiveeighth were, at times, ev­i­dent.

The wor­ries at the end, though, were for Wil­liams’s cen­tre part­ner, Jonathan Davies, who went down in agony with an an­kle in­jury sus­tained in the fi­nal play of the game.

“He has been strapped up and is on a crutch,” said Gat­land. “It doesn’t look bril­liant, but we will know prob­a­bly in the next 24 hours or so.”

Some two hours be­fore Davies’ in­jury the visi­tors had grasped the ini­tial ad­van­tage with a driv­ing maul, which was, to be frank, rather pa­thet­i­cally al­lowed to roll it­self over with hooker Tatafu Po­lata-Nau touch­ing down.

A char­ac­ter­is­tic line-break by Gareth Davies pre­sented Wales some go­for­ward and from there a flow­ing move, fea­tur­ing Wil­liams switch­ing to play­maker and Dan Big­gar en­act­ing a per­fect take-and-give, al­lowed St­eff Evans to score on his first home start.

But Bernard Fo­ley soon es­tab­lished him­self as the game’s no­table con­duc­tor and the more he touched the ball the more his side took con­trol. There was not much in it – there rarely has been in the last decade be­tween this two – but when a player such as Fo­ley is us­ing his boot as the ba­ton, then it is so easy to be mes­merised by his tune.

Ex­cept it was not just Fo­ley pulling the strings off his laces. Granted, Michael Cheika went in with a huge mid­field, lead­ing Gat­land to ask “who’s play­ing War­ren­ball now?”. But when you have an oval-ball artist such as Beale at full-back, and will­ing to come in and as­sume the cre­ative du­ties, then it spells dan­ger to those star­ing into the at­tack­ing faces and sim­ply won­der­ing “where next?”

Par­tic­u­larly when Will Ge­nia, a scrum-half who was threat­en­ing to lose his way, is storm­ing back to his strate­gic best. It was the man-of-the­match’s sump­tu­ous pass to lock Adam Cole­man which re­gained the im­pe­tus.

Say­ing that, Wales had only them­selves to blame for go­ing in nine points to the bad. Af­ter Leigh Half­penny brought it back to just four points, all they needed to do was see out the fi­nal two min­utes of the half. Alas, clear­ing their kick-offs is some­thing at which they do not ex­cel. Michael Hooper, the Aus­tralian cap­tain, burst his way over.

Half­penny brought it back to six points and the roars rip­pled. There were many op­por­tu­ni­ties. The game loos­ened and it be­gan to go through the Welsh hands. But chances were dropped and the Wal­la­bies high­lighted why they are rated as the third best team in the world.

Davies, who was ex­cel­lent in the No9, role, lost the ball un­der the close and highly phys­i­cal pres­sure of Te­vita Kuridrani and the ex­quis­ite mass of skill who is Beale was given li­cence to run the length of the pitch. Hooper saw yel­low and Hal­lam Amos dived in at the cor­ner and gave the con­test its in­ter­est in the fi­nal throes, but the re­sult was never really in doubt.

With Ge­or­gia to come next Sat­ur­day and Gat­land promis­ing whole­sale changes, Chieka had some con­sol­ing words for the Dragons. “I thought the new No12, Wil­liams, went really well and the way Wales tried to play is prob­a­bly a sign of the way the game is go­ing,” he said, as he cel­e­brated his sev­enth game with­out de­feat. “They have a lot to feel proud of. I think this was a bet­ter per­for­mance than when we came here last year and won by 30 points.”

Safe hands: St­eff Evans makes a clean catch de­spite the best ef­forts of Aus­tralia’s Michael Hooper at the Prin­ci­pal­ity Sta­dium last night

Pain game: Jonathan Davies suf­fers an an­kle in­jury in the fi­nal play of the match

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