CHRIS KIRWAN SAYS: Serious setback for Grand Slam champions
9:20am Thursday 28th June 2012 in Sport
START with low expectations and rarely will you be disappointed.
England weren’t jeered off on Sunday after their Euro2012 penalty shootout defeat – Roy Hodgson had been in the job for a matter of weeks and getting out of a relatively easy group was a success given their South African woes two years earlier.
Nobody will harangue Andy Murray if he loses in a Wimbledon semi-final – he is number four in the world in an era where the top three are sensational.
But Wales headed to Australia as Grand Slam winners and with just one player missing from their first choice team, albeit the vital figure of centre Jamie Roberts.
Expectations were high both within the camp and from their supporters.
As soon as France had been dealt with at the Millennium Stadium the talk turned to the tour Down Under.
A Test win against a southern hemisphere big gun on their own patch was a must but that was not the main aim – a series win was what would really establish Wales as the best in the north.
They looked like they had progressed from the World Cup; there was still room for improvement but narrow defeats had been turned into narrow victories.
This was a side destined to make up the bulk of the British and Irish Lions squad that will head to Australia next summer.
It was a golden chance against a Wallabies side denied the presence of skipper James Horwill and a handful of star backs.
So to suffer a series whitewash was hugely, hugely disappointing and a first step back for quite some time for this squad.
But make no apologies for having those high expectations. The past month has been so galling because of the talent in the Welsh ranks.
It has been a wasted opportunity and the next touring party that heads to Australia will now have 1969 dredged up when the Australia hoodoo should have been ended.
This side should not be judged by the same standards as past squads that headed Down Under and were pretty content to be plucky losers and to utter that “the gap is closing”.
There can be no sugar-coating when marking their tour; it cannot be ‘Bradley Davies – tried manfully. 7’ it should be ‘Bradley Davies – lucky to be selected ahead of Ian Evans, outmuscled. 5’.
Wales need to get over the psychological barrier that is preventing them from claiming big scalps but there is no need to throw the baby out with the bath water.
However, being critical is vital if they are to progress.
A disappointing summer means that Wales have missed a chance to stretch away from their northern rivals and it is hard to judge where they stand after a mishmash of European performances – something that is not helped by the baffling IRB world rankings system.
Ireland did superbly to go agonisingly close to victory against New Zealand in the second Test only to be on the receiving end of a drubbing that must lead them questioning whether a number of individuals can hack it at international level.
England had a couple of defeats to a typically powerful South Africa that were more convincing than the scoreline suggests but dug deep in those losses before sharing the third Test spoils when they should have won.
France were edged out by Argentina before dishing out a thumping to an understrength Pumas side while Scotland exceeded expectations.
Talk about the weather all you like, but the Scots beat Australia in the howling wind and rain before beating Fiji and Samoa on their own patch – no mean feat and they deserve plenty of credit for touring where many do not dare step foot for fear of a humbling defeat.
The true value of the results of last month will become clear when the Rugby Championship starts on August 18.
That curtain-raiser takes place in Sydney, where Wales fell short for the third time.
One thing is for sure, New Zealand will head across the Tasman Sea with high expectations and against this Wallabies side I don’t think they will head to Eden Park disappointed.
Wales, meanwhile, will be left to stew until their next crack at the Aussies in December. The expectations were justifiably high this summer and they must stay high for the autumn. Wales are in a pretty strong position and the problems are fixable, now it’s up to them to live up to their billing.
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