Sunday 17 December 2017

Wales bid to prove point by signing off in style

Mick Cleary, in Auckland

There is no redemption to be had for Wales in tomorrow's bronze medal game against Australia but there is credibility at stake.

If Wales, desolate after their semi-final loss to France last Saturday, were to fold completely, there would be sympathy and understanding.

Yet good teams never crumble and if Wales play with vigour, then we will truly know that they are a force to be reckoned with. Head coach Warren Gatland recognises that, as he spotted the chance for a bite-back at the sanctimonious claptrap coming from official sources when defending the decision of Alain Rolland to send off Sam Warburton.

In saying he considered pulling a fast one on Saturday by going to uncontested scrums, Gatland made claim on the moral high ground. He had adhered to the "spirit of the game". Had Rolland and the IRB?

Gatland is a shrewd man. He knew what he was doing when he dropped in that remark. He knew that he would be in the firing line but he was prepared to take the critical heat. His team know they need to show similar reserves of fortitude, for that is what this third-place match is all about -- character.

Finishing third (Wales beat Australia in 1987 to do just that) does not hold too much merit for rankings change. This game is the first of five between the teams over the next eight months, with the Wallabies heading to Cardiff on December 3 in a money-raising venture.

The series in Australia next summer is far more meaningful.

Even though Wales have far more cause to want to crawl away into a dark corner, there is a sense that they have one more chance to express themselves, something that was denied to them by Rolland's decision.

The game will appeal to one of Wales' finest, wing Shane Williams, who will retire after the game in December.

"It is a time I have been dreading for so long," said Williams. "It would be fantastic to bow out at the Millennium Stadium."

Williams will be eager to sign off in style, Wales too. If nothing else, this most tricky of fixtures promises to be entertaining. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

WALES -- L Halfpenny; G North, J Davies, J Roberts, S Williams; J Hook, M Phillips; G Jenkins (Capt), H Bennett, P James; B Davies, L Charteris; D Lydiate, T Faletau, R Jones. Reps: L Burns, R Bevington, A W Jones, A Powell, L Williams, S Jones, S Williams.

AUSTRALIA -- K Beale; J O'Connor, A Ashley-Cooper, B Barnes, D Ioane; Q Cooper, W Genia; J Slipper, T Polota-Nua, S Ma'afu; J Horwill (capt), N Sharpe; S Higginbotham, D Pocock, B McCalman. Reps: S Faingaa, B Alexander, R Simmons, R Samo, L Burgess, A Faingaa.

Ref -- W Barnes (Eng)

Wales v Australia, tomorrow, Live, RTE 2/ITV 1/Set Ire, 8.30am

Irish Independent

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