With backs like these...
November 6, 2010
The Welsh front-row lost out to the Australian backs © Getty Images
Australia's victory over Wales in Cardiff was a shot fired for every winger that has felt the arm of a prop pass around their shoulders while the words, 'Forwards win the game, backs decide by how many', gurgle forth.
Despite a scrummaging performance that plumbed the depths seen against England in Perth five months ago, Australia prevailed at a disturbingly empty Millennium Stadium thanks to the counter-attacking brilliance of their backline. Their actions will have been familiar to Wales fans, who are used to seeing the likes of Shane Williams and James Hook rescue games in which their forwards were under the cosh.
Kurtley Beale, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Quade Cooper and Australia's new golden boy, James O'Connor, attacked with such poise and confidence that the result was never in doubt once the second-half was underway. Their back-row was also magnificent at times, driving hard to create a platform for one of their own, the excellent David Pocock, to score the first try and providing support when one of their fleet-footed team-mates went for a wander up the touchline.
Wales could only sit back and marvel at such displays of youthful exuberance. With an injury list that could be serialised in a newspaper, they produced a performance of grim determination and on the whole their defensive effort was sterling. The spark that is associated with Welsh backline play was noticeably absent, though, and the workmanlike midfield trio of Stephen Jones, Andrew Bishop and Tom Shanklin failed to set pulses racing.
Jones was his usual reliable self, aside from a clutch of important penalties that went begging, and Shanklin was a force with ball in hand prior to his sin-binning but the creativity of Hook was wasted with his necessary deployment at fullback. Warren Gatland should take a serious look at Chris Czekaj or the lively Will Harries in the No.15 jersey to allow Hook to return at outside-centre alongside the defensively magnificent Bishop.
Wales failed to punch holes in a well-judged Australian defensive line, one planned and plotted with intelligence. The Wallabies' faith in their breakdown work extends to evaluating the worth of a foray into a ruck and that left Wales producing quick ball on several occasions only to be confronted by a fully-formed 13-man defensive line. Had their pack persisted with a series of forward drives, and matched the power and determination of some of their southern hemisphere rivals, they would have forced Australia to intervene and opened space for the likes of Harries and Williams. As it was, the Wallabies soaked them up and allowed Cooper, in one of his more reserved and well-judged Test performances, to play the corners.
Away from the exploits of Wales' front-row, Sam Warburton justified his call-up ahead of Martyn Williams. The selection made headlines prior to kick-off but the Blues youngster was excellent, battling Pocock throughout and providing menace at the breakdown to match his added pace in support play. Last season Pocock succeeded the majestic George Smith and the torch may soon be passed in Wales, although Williams' lively cameo highlighted his worth in a creative capacity and also the different impact of his game compared to the more robust Warburton.
Next weekend sees Australia head to Twickenham, where England will be supremely confident of following up their June antics by dominating them up front. Martin Johnson's side have also found something approaching a dangerous attack and it's hard to see how the Wallabies will be able to make lightning strike twice. Stephen Moore's return may add ballast to the scrum but Robinson and Alexander have reputations to rescue. Wales, meanwhile, face the Springboks and need to find the attacking spark that made them the northern side that the south can tolerate. Their scrum will not come to the party so easily against South Africa, meaning that Plan B needs to be a good one.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Huw Baines is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
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