Yet more heartache for Wales
June 16, 2012
Wales' Bradley Davies shows his dejection at the full-time whistle © Getty Images
Just a couple of hours after Ireland went agonisingly close to upsetting the world order with a historic victory over New Zealand, Wales suffered similar heartache at the hands of Australia.
A week after fluffing their lines against the Wallabies in Brisbane, Wales blew another great chance to score a rare win in the southern hemisphere and once again they only have themselves to blame.
This was an improved performance from Wales and they were near their defensive best but their failure to keep that intense level of discipline throughout the 80 minutes cost them. A lapse just before the break gifted Australia's Rob Horne a try and his side priceless momentum. Worse was to come and the most alarming blunder - or series of errors - came in the dying moments of the contest, with a series-levelling victory all but in the bag.
In control of the game and more importantly the ball, Wales managed to lose both in spectacular fashion. They lacked the composure to close out what would have been their first victory over the Wallabies on Australian soil since 1969 and coughed up possession deep in Australia's half, gifting the hosts one final roll of the dice. It was a gamble, with the home side opting for a rolling maul off a lineout, but it paid off with Wales rightly penalised by the referee for pulling it down. Replacement Australia fly-half Mike Harris, who was coolness personified, landed the match-winning kick just a few minutes after entering the fray.
As vital that moment of madness was, Wales' failure to seal the deal can arguably be traced back to the sin-binning of Australia's Cooper Vuna. The inexperienced winger got his marching orders on the hour mark for up-ending Wales' Leigh Halfpenny, but the impressive fullback dusted himself off to land the resulting penalty. However, it was the only time they troubled the scoreboard in Vuna's absence with Australia's Berrick Barnes cancelling that effort out a couple of minutes later.
Barnes proved a significant thorn in Wales' side throughout the game. Clearly not happy to play second fiddle to scrum-half Will Genia, who stole the headlines in last weekend's first Test triumph, he rushed from the birth of his son to Melbourne where he pulled the strings for the Wallabies. Injury denied him the chance to have the final say in the game, with the Waratahs' playmaker pulling up after failing to give his side the lead from the kicking tee. Questions would have been asked of coach Robbie Deans had Harris not struck in the dying moments, as Barnes had been carrying the injury for some time leading up to his failed penalty attempt.
Defeat in such a close contest - Wales have lost their last five matches to Australia by a single-digit margin - could prove even more costly in the long run. An upset would have seen them climb into the all-important top four in the IRB rankings ahead of the Rugby World Cup Pool draw later in the year. Chances like this, to not only cement their status as one of the world's best sides but also sow the seed for future success do not come that often.
As a result, next weekend's dead rubber in Sydney takes on even greater significance. A win is a must or Wales will have failed monumentally to use their Six Nations triumph as a springboard to greater things. Whether the presence of coach Warren Gatland, a silent partner in the coaching box for this game, can inspire the improvement needed remains to be seen.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.
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