Posts Tagged ‘ Australia ’

Wales v Australia. 2 down, and a hunt for a positive.

Well, here we are. The end of the much heralded tour to Australia. I say ‘end’ in the respect that we are into that dreadful area of sporting objectives, the chance to win some pride, the series now being dead in the water. One last chance for Wales to hunt down the southern hemisphere scalp in their own backyard, but even a win next week would be shadowed by the series defeat. ‘Brave’ and ‘close’ are two words which will be tossed around in the coming days, but defeat is the one word which will underline any superlatives dragged out to make up for failure to launch of the Welsh efforts down under.

The nature of the second test defeat was largely symbolic of Welsh failings throughout the two internationals. A dreadful decision from Priestland to hand possession back to an Australian team with a minute to go. There was no need to give possession back, no sense in giving it back, just generosity, a particular kind of Welsh generosity, a generosity that says ‘if we keep this ball, we’ll win, but have another go anyway lads’. Poor decisions will haunt Wales, and from the fans perspective, frustrations with those decisions will be the marker to take home from the tour.

But here is a thought that probably won’t be snowed under in support or adulation, Wales should have won this test series. Despite the two defeats and a calamity of errors, both tests were there for Wales to win, and their own ineptitude contributed to their defeat as much as Australian commitment and skill (of which there was plenty on display). Wales would certainly not have deserved to lead the series 1-0 after their first test showing. Awful decision making, lethargic play and a general absence of pace and intent left Wales looking like an end of season touring party that had enjoyed one too many on the beach hut bar the night before, yet the sheer volume of chances that were there for Wales, missed only through poorly placed passes, a failure to look up, a fumble here and there (in short, Welsh errors, often unforced) would have been enough to win for game.

For the second test, in attack Australia vanished. Apart from a flash or two of mercurial running, there was very little coming at the Welsh try line. What was coming had been given position and space from catastrophic Welsh lineout play, and little else. This time the chances for points were taken by Wales, but the set piece collapsed. From a lineout that dominated the Six Nations, Wales have reverted to the bad old habits seen during the Henry/Hanson era – basics going badly wrong, and gift upon gift was lavished on the Australian backline as a result.

And yet, for so many crucial things going wrong so very often, Wales led the second test with a minute to go, and, had a monumentally stupid decision not been made, a victory would have been recorded. Despite the depressing long list of ‘areas to improve’, Wales still came within a whisker of turning over an Australian side away from home, something unheard of in several rugby playing generations. Now, is that a positive? Well, if it is, it’s not a very promising one. This Wales squad should have left the days of ‘brave performance – no result’ long behind them, but here they are again. And still, despite playing poorly, the result should have come. The more recent occasions where a Welsh team has gone to Australia and performed poorly, has usually resulted in a minimum 30 point hammering. Not so this time.

So let’s not sugar coat things, Wales lost. Perhaps they should have won, but they failed once more on foreign soils. But while this is disappointing, it is far from the end. Too many Welsh journalists wrote before the Welsh team flew for Oz, that this was the now or never moment. Really? With these defeats, this Welsh team will never beat a southern hemisphere team down under? I’m not so sure. There are things to improve on, lots of things, but developmentally this Welsh squad has a very long way to go. The Grand Slam was not the final product, a series defeat in Australia is not the end of the teams progression. So yes, let’s be annoyed that bad habits have crept back in and cost us a series win overseas, let’s call for changes, for trying Hook, for dropping Phillips, for bringing back Ian Evans, for not playing Warburton when the man can barely walk, and anything else you might want to add to the suggestion box entry to be posted asap to Mr Howley, but let’s not say that this is the end. Learn from this, and be better for it, that is the only way this team will improve, and let’s hope, for want of anything else, that they might start that process next week.

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Last of the Summer Shane.

Well, it’s all over I guess, no more can Wales rely on Shane to strike the impossible score, to break out from inside his own half, waltz between four defenders and ghost underneath the posts to secure a legendary grand slam sealing try. No, now we have to figure out how to score as a team, and on present form that may well prove harder than it should be. Yesterday’s game in Cardiff at least had the fitting tribute to end the occasion, as he did it again, but on the whole there was plenty of reason to, perhaps not be worried, but at least be disappointed.

Shane walks on

Putting the yellow card of Halfpenny to one side, one wonders how, with the backline at Wales’ disposal, how on earth we seemed to be so impotent in attack. Priestland, Williams, Roberts, the other Williams, North, Halfpenny…the combination of such names should strike terror into any defence, yet, and we saw it in the World Cup, something just is not clicking in the go forward of this team. This column certainly had raised eyebrows when attack coach Rob Howley was given his new contract, and they went from raised to frowned as the game went on. How does a team with that much potency in it fail to go forward? Perhaps Nigel Davies is due a return to the set up – he seems at least to be able to get his team over the gain-line…

Shane speaks

Anyway, there is no cause for panic at this point. A one off largely irrelevant fixture, decided by a yellow card, gives no great indication to the rise/fall of Wales. We learned nothing new, Wales needs Adam Jones, the team currently suffers from inexperience, Ian Evans is a great player until he gets tired, and despite having the most exciting backline outside of New Zealand, Wales still struggles to create a try in the first 60 minutes of international rugby matches. It’s a concern that we have known these questions have existed for a very long time, and we are still looking for answers, but perhaps a second training camp in Poland will provide the answers to all our ills.

The game though will not be remembered for any of those issues, it will be remembered for that one try, the last try in a Welsh jersey that we will see from Shane Williams. As the final whistle went, and Shane marched across the field with children in hand (is it too much to ask that that son of his will carry on the torch), people wept all around our vantage point. Grown men to little children, blubbing. Did they cry because they will miss Shane, or because they fear for who we will turn to in his absence? Probably a little bit of both. Either way, his contribution will be missed.

Shane’s Lap

It was a beautiful try, rather than a beautiful game, but it was a try, five seconds of play, that reflected everything that was so magnificent about Shane Williams. The speed, the step, the leap over a fallen tackler, and, while the somersault was impressive, it was the clenched fists of joy at crossing the line that we will recognise most, and remember most fondly. It’s been a blast of a 13 year international career, and it is a great shame that it had to end.

Diolch Shane.

Wales’ World Cup: Stars Born, Kicks Missed.

Well, in many respects, Wales’ defeat to Australia in the third place play off of the 2011 rugby world cup smacked of a game too far. The legs were not pumping as hard as they had been, the gain line breaks failed to travel as far as they could a couple of weeks ago, and all the time everyone in red pondered the absence of Priestland, Jones (Adam) and Warburton and what could have been with them on the field. The strength in depth to cover such absences is developing, but it is clearly not there yet. So fourth for Wales in the world cup (and a much lower world ranking to boot) and a sense of disappointment from a tournament which in the warm up period offered so little, yet grew to offer so much. The defeat to France and the infamous red card will be one to stand the test of time in Welsh irritations, probably outstripping the Andy Haden lineout dive in 1978 as the most controversial and bitter of reasons for defeat (though I wager Haden’s dive will ultimately hold more sway over Welsh rugby’s bitter taste buds). But despite consecutive defeats at the end of the tournament, and a string of sore bones and bruises (most of which will be focused on George North’s head), there is much cause for optimism as this squad moves forward, as will be considered below.

Welsh Player of the Tournament: There are so many players in the Welsh squad who could raise their hands for this accolade, Warburton, North, Priestland, Lydiate, Adam Jones could all make their case, but Toby Faletau for me has led the way, and should do so for a long time in a Welsh jersey. The man has been a monster in defence, hammering every single person down who was foolhardy enough to get within his grasp. In attack he proved a nuisance, crashing forward and making waves of space for those around him. At the end of the tournament he was asked to move out of position, and still proved his worth: he certainly won’t force Warburton out of his No7 jersey, but he proved his versatility in covering for the captain. Not since Scott Quinnell have Wales had such a presence from No8, and Faletau is already looking better than Quinnell did in his prime.

Star Find: Again, plenty to choose from, but Priestland probably stands out, more so by his absence than his presence on the field. All of the talk in the tournament focused on the Welsh backs, Roberts in particular, but so much of what went right for Wales in attack came from the mind of Priestland. He offered a sense of vision that has long been lacking in the No10 jersey for Wales, and both Hook and Stephen Jones’ efforts in the role highlighted just how important Priestland had been. Another one who will have hopefully a couple of World Cups in his future, Priestland has inherited the outside half crown and made it his own.

Wales LVP: Possibly a harsh branding, and a harsh recipient, but James Hook has gone from being the pundits first choice 10 for Wales, to the nations pariah…his journey to France could perhaps not be more timely. What happened to Hook one wonders? Once so calm with his kicks, once so dangerous running forward, he now looks a shadow, a wraith like presence scaring the Welsh attack into ignominy with his mere presence. As others have pointed out, Wales lost three games by a collective margin of 5 points – looking back over Hook’s missed efforts how can fans help but point a finger of judgement in his direction. Probably most telling of Hook’s contributions was against Australia in the build up to Shane Williams’ try. Hook broke, panicked, and flung a ball at Shane’s feet – chance then created the try, not Hook. A startled man, a broken man, perhaps a sabbatical in France is just what he needs, because far from being a grand slam hero, Hook is now damaged goods, and we must hope that this incredibly talented man can find a path to rugby redemption – he certainly needs it.     

The Good: When Welsh attack sparked it was the best in the tournament. From 1-15 there were occasions when Wales played something approaching rugby perfection. With one or two key personal lost, it could not be sustained, but when the Welsh first choice 15 took the field – what a joy it was to see them play. The Irish game will stand the test of time as an example of how rugby should be played – and boy did Wales play that day.

The Bad: The strength in depth is coming, but it’s not here yet. Hook for Priestland, Paul James for Adam Jones, no more openside flankers when Sam’s not around…it’s only one or two players but when they are not available to Wales we looked like the team that was caught in the Six Nations headlamps not so many months ago. The Welsh coaches need to grab a shovel and start digging to find the next tighthead prop and openside flanker and fast. Without support in those areas Wales go from being great and average – and it happens with alarming ease

The Ugly: Warburton, poor Sam Warburton. The debates are still raging as to whether it should have been a red card or not, yet even those who conclude it should have been, still pity the man for his punishment. Warburton stood as the leader, the man who would carry Wales to the world cup final. It did not happen. A referee made a decision and took it all away from him. Put aside the debate, if the card was right or wrong, his loss from the tournament was an ugly underserved moment.

Finally, The Future: Wales must not get too excited too soon. They leave this tournament having played the best rugby, and at times, having looked like the best team, but not always. A Six Nations is coming, and Wales can win it. With the first XV available this Wales squad could take any nation, but we must find backups to the starting line up who are up to the task. 10, 7, and 3, positions on the field that are essential. Wales have three excellent players to start in those berths, but currently have no stars to step up. Without support in those positions, any ambitions of Grand Slam success will remains as ambitions alone. We have shown how average we are without stars in those positions, and the future of Welsh rugby will stand and fall not on the ability of Priestland, Warburton and Adam Jones, but on those who replace them when the need arises. Keep searching Wales, we have the power, now we need to back it up from the bench.

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