Wales 21-29 Australia

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Wales fell to a 13th consecutive defeat to Australia at the Principality Stadium, and in doing so made it 15 years since they last won the opening game of the Autumn International series.

There was encouragement for Warren Gatland’s men however, with the majority of supporters generally optimistic about the new game plan adopted to play an expansive game with the ball in hand.

Injuries dictated a somewhat changed Wales lineup, with the likes of Sam Warburton, Ross Moriarty, Justin Tipuric, Rhys Webb and George North all unavailable, allowing Aaron Shingler, Josh Navidi and Steff Evans the chance to win home caps.

Josh Navidi started his first home test

Gatland also opted to stick with a tactic that worked for him with the British and Irish Lions over the summer, opting for a ‘second five-eighth’ in the inside centre role, as Owen Williams was selected over the likes of Jamie Roberts and Scott Williams.

Australia, meanwhile, arrived with the bulk of their Rugby Championship squad still intact, but started the game looking surprisingly rusty despite having been together since the summer.

Errors from both sides stunted an otherwise fast and furious game, that swung back and forth at the drop of a hot, but didn’t threaten either try line inside the first 10 minutes, only a Leigh Halfpenny penalty separating the two sides.

In the end it was a clever kick from Bernard Foley, the Australian fly-half, that opened the door to the first try of the game, as he turned Steff Evans back into his own 22, before Marika Koroibete was on hand to shepherd the Scarlets winger into touch.

From the resulting lineout the Wallabies found it all too easy to spin past a half-hearted initial Welsh maul defence, and Tatafu Polota-Nau was the ball carrying beneficiary before Foley added the extras from the tee.

Owen Williams got the nod at 12

Wales were not in the moods to let their heads go down though, and fought to instantly reply. Jon Davies set up the first chance with an outside break, finding Liam Williams before the Saracens winger was brought down and Davies knocked on at the back of the ruck allowing Australia to clear.

However, the scrappy nature of the early lineouts paid into the home side’s hands as Adam Coleman went to pressure Gareth Davies, but the scrum-half was able to step past the Australian and break through the resulting gap.

He was caught inside the 22, but Wales didn’t panic, and recycled the ball quickly before going from wide on the right wing, putting the ball through the hands of Taulupe Faletau, Jake Ball, Owen Williams, Dan Biggar, Jonathan Davies, Liam Williams and Leigh Halfpenny before Steff Evans bounced off one tackler and crashed over in the corner.

Steff Evans scores under pressure

If ever there was a try to demonstrate the new Wales, then this was it, and with Halfpenny nailing the conversion from the touchline, the hosts lead 10-7 with 20 minutes on the clock.

Unfortunately some things never change, and a Welsh inability to effectively gather and clear the ball from kick-offs was more evident than ever in the first half. As quickly as we took the lead, it went away again.

Possession was lost via a knock-on as the forwards looked to setup an exit, and from the ensuing scrum it was only a matter of time before the Wallabies scored. Some spirited defence from the men in red kept them at bay, but a cutting miss-pass from Will Genia eventually allowed Coleman to dive over unopposed.

Adam Coleman celebrates his try

Foley converted and Australia stretched their lead a few minutes later through a Reece Hodge penalty from 51 metres.

Halfpenny responded quickly with a penalty of his own, but yet again the exiting curse struck as a botched Steff Evans kick and then a loose pass into touch invited pressure back onto Wales.

Australia once again went through the phases in the redzone, coming up against the organised last-ditch Welsh defence, but when the ball was eventually spun wide it was captain Michael Hooper who barged his way over.

A missed conversion meant the teams went in with the Wallabies 13-22 to the good, and Wales knowing that the next score would be crucial.

Gareth Davies was lively throughout

10 minutes of pressure ensued at the beginning of the second half, with Liam Williams and Steff Evans making ground, but the try line wasn’t really threatened as small mistakes resulted in the turnover count rising too high to compete.

Eventually it was a Halfpenny penalty that brought the attacking set to a close, but the home side continued to dominate possession and territory, with Australia continuing to infringe at the breakdown.

Unfortunately the game turned on a freakish moment of play just after the hour mark.

Wales had gone through a number of attacking phases, determined to keep the tempo of the game high and the ball in play as much as possible, moving Australia around the pitch but not really making any ground through the Wallabies defence.

Then, as Steff Evans jinked and jived down the left wing, the attention of two people were diverted to the Wales 22 as Kurtley Beale appeared with possession and cruised over the try line. An unlikely rip in-tackle winning him the ball and the simplest of scores for the full-back.

Kurtley Beale gladly dives under the posts

Suddenly Wales were 13 points down and staring at yet another defeat to Australia.

They were handed a lifeline, as referee Mr Jackson lost patience with the visitors at the tackle area and Hooper was sent to the sin-bin, but the Welsh side could not take advantage, hindered by increasingly tired legs towards the end of a breathless test match, and the introduction of an inexperienced bench.

Set piece dominance could not be capitalised upon, and eventually Alun Wyn Jones would spill possession making a desperate dive for the try line, allowing Australia to clear their lines in a way Wales could not manage earlier in the game.

It took until the final 30 seconds of the game for Wales to finally breach the Wallabies defence once more as Jon Davies collected a loose Biggar pass to poke a speculative kick into the corner. Lively replacement Hallam Amos managed to collect the ball and evade a flailing Koroibete to acrobatically touch down in the corner.

Hallam Amos just kept hold of the ball to score

A spectacular end to an entertaining test match, that made up in excitement what it missed in quality.

Unfortunately for Wales it was massively overshadowed by a serious looking Jonathan Davies injury picked up in the last play of the game, that is likely to keep the Scarlets Centre out for a while.

Jon Davies receives treatment

Injury aside, Warren Gatland will be keen to focus on the positives in a performance that threatened much, but produced too little to realistically stand a chance of winning.

Cutting the mistakes, sharpening the midfield structure and subsequently increasing attacking penetration will pay dividends, as will a week of Shaun Edwards drilling exit strategies.

Changes are expected against Georgia next week, but Gatland should be cautious about total upheaval. Continuity aids development, especially just one test into a new game plan.

Improving is a must, as New Zealand won’t afford us the same chances Australia gave up. 

For the first time in a long time though, I enjoyed a Wales international. Long may that continue


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