CHRIS KIRWAN SAYS: Late howlers show the value of Jamie Roberts
9:10am Thursday 21st June 2012 in Chris Kirwan
FIVE days on and it’s still ‘that kick’ that dominates the talk from Wales’ tour Down Under.
We should have been thinking about a series decider rather than still wondering whether a first win against the Wallabies for 1969 can be claimed.
Emotions are still pretty raw in the Welsh camp after seeing Mike Harris nervelessly bisect their posts at the death.
They will have run over those last two minutes in their minds over and over again, pondering what they could have done differently.
And that’s the key point – they ALL will have been doing that, not just Rhys Priestland, the man who put boot to ball.
The fly-half has failed to hit the heights of his World Cup campaign and will be under close scrutiny after hanging on to the number 10 jersey for Saturday’s Third Test.
Apparently Ryan Jones let out a loud ‘No!’ when the ball was kicked in Melbourne.
Well, if Richard Hibbard hadn’t blundered his way in to the side of the resulting ruck with all the care of a Chuckle Brother then it wouldn’t have given the Wallabies the penalty to earn field position.
The kick was a bad decision but was actually pretty well executed – it was just that once again the chase stank.
That has been a bone of contention of one man that Wales have sorely missed in Australia.
Stricken centre Jamie Roberts has proved to be an inspired choice as pundit by Sky Sports while his knee recovers.
A constant gripe of his has been that the southern hemisphere chase kicks better and he has been proved right time and time again.
Compare the way that Wales ambled up field in the closing stages and then gifted away and penalty with the way that South Africa hunted down England scrum-half Ben Youngs in the Springboks’ rampant opening at Ellis Park.
The number nine covered superbly just yards shy of his line when there was a chip over the top, turned to put a kick clear only to have to abort when greeted by an oncoming wave of green defenders.
He was smashed over his line and was forced to concede a five-metre attacking scrum that ultimately yielded three more South African points. The kick-chase is one of many small factors giving the south a slight edge over the north over the last fortnight and that must be particularly galling for Roberts, who is known for being an excellent pursuer downfield.
The Cardiff Blues centre’s reputation has probably been enhanced through his absence in Australia.
Wales badly miss his organisation and leadership (surely he would have taken responsibility in the 79th minute and carried hard over the gain line while others shirked theirs?). He is also key to the Warren Gatland style of rugby and it’s no coincidence that Priestland’s struggle for form has been exacerbated by Roberts’ absence.
The boss from New Zealand was picked up by the cameras sitting to Rob Howley’s left like a driving examiner closely watching a nervous learner’s every move.
Unfortunately, after safely reversing around a corner and nailing the parallel parking, Wales managed to botch it up just yards from the test centre.
Everyone has their ‘if-onlys’ in sport but with Roberts wearing number 12 it’s likely that the L plates would have been ripped up after claiming that all important Tri Nations scalp on their own turf.
The powerful centre’s injury has confirmed he is as important to his country as tighthead Adam Jones.