Bale develops secret weapons for game of throw-ins
There was a brief moment in Vienna on Thursday night when the 4,000 Wales fans could have been forgiven for thinking that Rory Delap had been smuggled pitch-side but Gareth Bale has revealed that his long throw that helped set up their second goal was not quite the first of his career.
Rewind almost eight years to his time at Tottenham and Bale also surprised everyone - not least his manager Harry Redknapp - when he suddenly launched a colossal throw in a 1-0 Uefa Cup win against NEC Nijmegen. "It was amazing he threw it that far - he's kept it up his sleeve," Redknapp said at the time.
Bale also provided a spectacular assist for Jermain Defoe in 2012 with a throw from inside his own half but it was all so long ago that just about everyone - including Austria - had forgotten about this particular talent. But not Wales manager Chris Coleman, or the rest of his technical staff, who had secretly put in time in training before Thursday's 2-2 draw on using Bale's throw-ins as the platform to launch unexpected attacks on the Austria penalty area.
"We've worked on different things in training," admitted Bale. "I've had a long throw for a while but we've only just brought it out. It was a nice surprise to use and worked to help us get that point."
Also critical in the manoeuvre was Sam Vokes, the target for the throw that ultimately ended with Kevin Wimmer putting through his own goal, who reckons that Bale could have played rugby union to an elite level.
"We know the talent Gareth has and we know there is not much he cannot do," Vokes said. "I am just glad he is a footballer and he plays for Wales. I am more used to trying to get on the end of his crosses than his long throws. It is something different but it just shows what Gareth has got in the locker.
"It is another weapon and I am sure we will use it again."
It was especially astute that Wales had targeted the away Austria match as a fixture when a more direct style might yield greatest success. Austria had been on a run of 10 straight wins in tournament qualifying matches and, without Aaron Ramsey and potentially now Joe Allen against Georgia tomorrow, Wales' creative options are particularly restricted.
The entire Austria team had also been focused on doubling or even trebling up on Bale whenever he got near the ball in open play.
"It's key for us to keep finding different ways to score," said Swansea's Neil Taylor. "They were pressing very well and we were almost playing into their hands."
Taylor also knows from the experience of facing Tony Pulis' Stoke City side and Delap just how uncomfortable it is for defenders to deal with that sort of delivery.
"Ask Tony Pulis," he said. "It's a horrible thing. It causes chaos and it can work from time to time. I am not saying we will use it in every game, maybe we won't need to and there will be other games we are on top with the football at our feet."
Wales will certainly hope that is the case against Georgia in Cardiff tomorrow but the second-half loss on Thursday of Allen to a hamstring injury is a concern.
Coleman is expected to reveal the results of a scan this morning but his likely absence will place an even greater onus than usual on Bale, who is only four goals behind Ian Rush's all-time Wales record.
The congested nature already of Group D is also likely to make it imperative, even after a valuable draw in Vienna, that maximum points are taken against Georgia and Moldova.
"It's early in the group but it's a chance for us to put a stamp on it," said Vokes. "We know it will not look such a good result in Austria if we do not get the job done on Sunday. Seven points from three games would be massive."
Austria travel to Serbia in tomorrow night's other Group D game. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
Wales v Georgia, Live, Sky Sports 1, tomorrow, 5.00pm