Wednesday 24 January 2018

Wallabies hand spirited Wales finishing lesson

Wales 16 Australia 25

Michael Aylwin at the Millennium Stadium

A familiar story unfolded at the Millennium Stadium: very encouraging from Wales in so many ways, but a defeat all the same to more-fancied southern-hemisphere opposition.

This was a masterclass by Australia in chance-conversion. Wales had the vast majority of the possession, and they annihilated the Australia front five in a manner that is rarely seen at international level (unless Australia are involved). Under any normal circumstances you would have expected a rout by the home team.

This was Wales, though. And, more importantly, it was Australia. The normal rules do not apply. The Wallabies are turning into a side quite unlike any other. They are a bewildering proposition to the teams in the north, reversing all the supposedly established tenets of the game as understood up here.

They play, and increasingly they win, by running at 100mph without bothering with anything so obvious as a solid set piece. But, by God, they know how to take their chances. All three of their tries came off the back of blinding pace. The first, the most traditional, came when David Pocock finished off a series of darts and drives unleashed off line-out ball early in the first half.

Wales handled the early warning and dominated the rest of the half. If Stephen Jones had kicked half as well as normal (maybe they should have closed the roof after all), they would have gone into the sheds ahead, instead of 7-6 behind. And they would have deserved it.

But for all Wales's phases -- and this was the familiar bit -- they lacked a cutting edge and Australia's defence seemed quite comfortable. Jamie Roberts was sorely missed, as were Lee Byrne, Jonathan Davies and Ryan Jones.

But Australia have a fair few missing too. Never mind, they did the same at the start of the second half, the magnificent Kurtley Beale starting and finishing a counter-attack that seemed so easy and obvious you wondered why Wales had not managed to score a try as well, what with all their possession.

Stephen Jones got Wales back to 14-9, but then more spilt ball saw Will Genia scamper away. Quade Cooper's long pass and James O'Connor's short inside one released Ben Alexander for the Wallabies' third.

Tom Shanklin was shown a yellow card with 15 minutes to go for an early tackle on Pocock after the latest Aussie break-out, and the penalty had the visitors out to 22-9. That sparked a furious assault on the Australia line by Wales, which was thwarted to the video referee's satisfaction. No matter, the stadium and Wales knew, a five-metre scrum was to follow.

Richie Rees darted over with Australia very close to a penalty try anyway. With six points in it and 10 to play, the turning point came two minutes later as Wales, for once, broke out from an Australia spill, and Shane Williams was away deep into Australia's 22. The place went wild, such that it took long confused seconds for anyone to realise that Wayne Barnes had called play back for an offside decision against Dan Biggar in front of Wales's posts.

The resultant penalty was converted by O'Connor to end the contest, but Wales were entitled to know why, if play was to be called back, it should be for their offside and not the Australia knock-on that had preceded it.

Oh, the injustice, the north might cry. Same result, though, the south would point out. And they would be right.

Scorers -- Wales: R Rees try, D Biggar 1 con, S Jones 3 pens. Australia: D Pocock, D Beale, B Alexander try each, O'Connor 2 cons, 2 pens.

Wales: J Hook, W Harries, T Shanklin (C Czekaj 76), A Bishop, S Williams, S Jones (D Biggar 65), M Phillips (R Rees 65, H Bennett 75); G Jenkins, M Rees (capt), A Rhys-Jones, B Davies, A Wyn-Jones (D Jones 74), D Lydiate, S Warburton (M Williams 65), J Thomas.

Australia: K Beale, J O'Connor, A Ashley-Cooper, M Giteau (B Barnes 67), D Mitchell, Q Cooper, W Genia (L Burgess 74); B Robinson, S Faingaa (M Edmonds 54), B Alexander (J Slipper 62), M Chisholm (D Mumm 75), N Sharpe, R Elsom (capt), D Pocock, B McCalman.

Referee: W Barnes (England).


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