6:14pm Sunday 10th June 2012
By Chris Kirwan
THOSE fine margins. In the Six Nations Wales reflected on the moments that secured tight wins but in Brisbane on Saturday night they were agonising about what might have been.
For all Will Genia’s magic, for all Australia’s hour-long dominance, the Grand Slam winners were presented with a golden opportunity for a first success against the Wallabies on their own turf since 1969.
With the Aussies seemingly out on their feet, Wales came back from 20-6 down to have them on the ropes at 20-16.
Turnover ball was recycled swiftly inside the Aussies’ 22. The hosts were at sixes and sevens but skipper Sam Warburton, of all people, flung an awful pass to his left that was knocked on by Rhys Priestland.
Such profligacy cannot be afforded Down Under.
Referee Craig Joubert was playing advantage and Leigh Halfpenny knocked over a penalty that made it 20-19, but Australian fly-half Berrick Barnes should have been restarting the game with his side behind for the first time rather than sweating on a one-point lead.
If there is one thing that has been learnt over the years against the Tri Nations big guns it is that you don’t let them off the hook.
Minutes later centre Pat McCabe cut a lovely line, Barnes knocked over the extras and the Wallabies saw out the game pretty comfortably.
“International rugby is about taking your opportunities and we didn’t take them,” lamented Wales caretaker coach Rob Howley.
The boss also said after the game that his side would be better for the hit out, that several of them would benefit from the bruising encounter after weeks of inactivity.
But one hopes that Wales haven’t missed their best shot against a Wallabies side that was without some key figures and leg-weary courtesy of a ridiculous schedule.
Australian officials slotted in a midweek encounter with Scotland after a round of Super XV rugby and just four days ahead of the first Test.
It was no surprise that their side began to flag in the last quarter but the Aussies just managed to stay off the canvas when their legs were wobbling.
Australia were excellent for an hour, with Genia calling the shots and scoring one terrific solo try while their back row had the better of the much-vaunted Welsh triumvirate of Warburton and the two Newport Gwent Dragons Dan Lydiate and Toby Faletau.
Wallabies skipper David Pocock was brilliant when blindside Scott Higginbotham carried hard, scored the first close-range try and tackled superbly, never more so than when snuffing out Welsh hopes with a tremendous 73rd-minute cover tackle on Cuthbert.
Conversely, Wales didn’t match the defensive standards they set in the Six Nations, kicked woefully and didn’t really attack with conviction or accuracy.
There were plus points – Alex Cuthbert looked a real threat and deserved his try while the set piece worked well – but Wales were second best.
Sorry Scotland, but Australia were a far, far tougher proposition than the makeshift one beaten 9-6 by your boys in a wet and windy Newcastle.
Not that they will care. Andy Robinson’s side might be in possession of a wooden spoon but the record book shows that they won on Wallabies soil.
Wales have two more goes at following suit, and it is tinkering with tactics rather than sweeping changes that are needed.
Howley will monitor injury victims George North and Scott Williams, while two Ospreys Joneses – Ryan and Alun Wyn – are pressing hard for inclusion.
But there is no need to panic despite Wales being off-colour and second best. They need to work out how to starve Genia of space and make the most of their set-piece prowess, because fail on Saturday and even a third Test consolation win will leave them disappointingly short of their series win target.
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