Wales v Australia – Match Thoughts

The first game of the Autumn Series for Wales is in the record books and for the thirteenth consecutive match, Australia yet again, gets the win. I predicted an Australian victory with a scoreline of 23-29, so for once was not too far away from the actual outcome, but I would have preferred to have been completely wrong and be celebrating a Welsh win. This piece looks at my own thoughts on the Welsh performance and also my match ratings from a Welsh perspective.

A Welsh Review

Warren Gatland and his coaching staff advised us that Wales were looking to evolve their game and be more expansive, and indeed this was true yesterday. Wales tried to play with greater speed in their game, go quicker from lineouts, more offloading and certainly play a wider game in the backline. This delivered mixed results. In the first half especially, Wales offloaded when the pass was not on, making the percentage chance of execution heavily weighted to the pass hitting the floor or going into Australian arms. There was also a number of passes dropped by players, where again, mainly in the first half, players still seemed surprised that the player with the ball offloaded to them, wherein the past, players would have taken the ball to the ground and reset up play from there.

I felt the play felt too frenetic at times, throwing passes out wide without a real thought for whether a wide pass was the right thing to do or not. Again in the first half, we seemed to have only one ball carrier to take the ball into the opposition, make then tackle and try to get the opposition having to reset their defence, that being Taulupe Faletau. Australia quickly saw this, and a number of times, when Faletau took a short ball off the 10, were lying in wait with a reception of two players to smash him, as soon as the pass touched his fingers. If Wales are going to play a more expansive game, with ballplayers then we still need to vary our game. Just going side to side just allows the defence to drift across the field. And at times I felt we did drift too much. The game we are trying to play is still new to the players so trying not to be excessively harsh, but the 12 can be almost another fly-half on the pitch, but he also needs to take the ball up at times just to keep the defence honest, puts doubts in their minds, and then get players like Steff Evans, Liam Williams into the midfield areas with their ability to make opposing players miss.

In the second half, there were improvements, which you would expect with players getting more used to the game plan and each other, with a number of new combinations being tried. We had to support Faletau, players like Rob Evans, Jake Ball and Josh Navidi supporting the ball carrying stints, and Evans in particular, showing in the backline, showing some nice offloading touches and taking some good options. I felt that substitutions in the forwards, in particular, was left too late. In particular, Tomas Francis was struggling with the pace of the game, and Ken Owens had a solid game, but nothing spectacular. After 63 minutes, Australia was up by 13 points and in complete control, why wasn’t Kristian Dacey, a big strong ball carrier, and aggressive in defence not put on to try and change the momentum at this point? Also, Leon Brown, the young Dragons prop, a player who has impressed many and according to reports, really impressed in the set piece get together Wales had with England in the week, also did not come on at that point? We know what Francis can do, the game is moving away, let’s have a look at the new man. As it turned out, Dacey came on with 5 minutes left and Brown got 10 minutes.

The restarts for Wales were poor as well, a number of times the restart kick was caught taken into contact for either then a knock onto occur or a wrong decision made. This needs to be eradicated quickly. Shaun Edwards will also be very unhappy with the Tatafu Polota-Nau try from a rolling maul and how easy Adam Coleman was able to score a try from a short pass from Will Genia when there was a disorganisation in the Welsh defence.

A few words about Australia. As always dangerous in hand, and in Will Genia and Bernard Foley had two players who controlled the game beautifully, taking the right options, kicking in behind when required and keeping the ball in hand when it was on. Genia, in particular, was outstanding. A few years back he was one of the best number 9’s in the world, and lost his way somewhat, in this form he is right back to being a world class operator. Australia took their tries very well, and next week’s encounter with England is one I am very much looking forward to. Two very good sides and will be interesting to see who comes out on top. Australia fully deserved this victory against Wales, were the better side, and Michael Cheika and his coaches will be happy to gain yet another victory in Cardiff.

My Welsh Ratings

Leigh Halfpenny 6/10 – Dependable as ever with the boot, in defence and under the high ball. Was involved in the Steff Evans try. The debate will still go on though about should he start at 15, if we want to play more expansive with strike runners. One for another day.

Liam Williams 6/10 – Made one central break late in the game where he showed his ability to make defenders miss. Fine kick chase when he blocked a Reece Hodge clearance which made Australia rush back to defend. Tried a couple offloads that were not on, but overall a solid performance.

Jonathan Davies 6/10 – Few solid runs and strong as always in defence. His injury at the end of the game looks a real worry, and would not be surprised if he is not able to play in any more of these series of games. Put boot to the ball a few times with mixed results, and let’s not talk about his cross kick when Wales had a free play due to a discretion by Australia.

Owen Williams 7/10 –  A good debut from the Gloucester player. My fear over his defence was not required. He dealt with Kerevi and Tevita Kuridrani very well, no mean feat with that pair coming at you. His role as a second playmaker, he showed some nice touches and in the second half swapped a few times with Dan Biggar popping up at first receiver. Would like to see him take it to the line a few times more next time, and also carry the ball more making the defenders tackle him, but overall should be pleased with his first start for his country.

Steff Evans 6/10 – Bright on his first start at the Principality Stadium Came looking for work and showed good feet avoiding tackles and also got on the scoresheet with a great finish for his try. On the areas to look at to develop his defence needs to improve, and he did get the ball ripped from him by Kurtley Beale for one of the Australian tries. Also, a kick from a restart from Evans went straight into the midfield which after a number of phases resulted in an Australian try just before halftime. Is a good player, and I hope Wales persist with him.

Dan Biggar 6/10 – Solid performance from the 10. Some of his exit kickings could be improved on and was a bit mixed, but there was also some lovely kicks to touch gaining good territory for his country. Showed some nice touches in his passing and a few times when popped up at the second receiver, showed a speed of hand and thought to shift the ball on quickly, one to keep an eye on.

Gareth Davies 6/10 – Can be so dangerous around the ruck and can make clean breaks which he does regularly, however, can make some bad decisions when others are in better positions and his service from the base can be sharper. If Rhys Webb is off to France next season and is no longer available to Wales (please god, no), then right now Davies is the best 9 in Wales, so hoping can improve in the areas mentioned. Is a really dangerous strike runner, when defenders tire mind.

Rob Evans 7/10 – Been out with an injury since September and had a quiet first half, but the second half was excellent. Carried well and popped up to receive the ball a number of times and looked comfortable passing the ball. One of the better performers for Wales on Saturday.

Ken Owens 6/10 – Solid performance. Set piece went well and made his tackles. Didn’t see the “Cannonball” with the ball in hand enough, unfortunately.

Tomas Francis 5/10 – Won a few penalties in the scrum against Scott Sio, but his overall game I felt he struggled to get to rucks and did not show up much in defence. Has not played much for Exeter Chiefs recently and it showed.

Jake Ball 6/10 – Won his fair share of lineout ball. Carried well and popped up at first receiver for Steff Evans try. Went well and a solid display from the dependable player.

Alun Wyn Jones 8/10 – Best player for Wales on the day. Big in defence, a nuisance at the breakdown and was in the faces of Australian players all day.

Aaron Shingler 6/10 – Great lineout option for Wales, and went about his work with a minimum of fuss. Not the level of performances he has starred in for the Scarlets, but this is better opposition.

Josh Navidi 7/10 – Made 17 tackles for Wales not missing one. The openside was in direct opposition to Michael Hooper and competed very well with the world-class Australian, which he deserves a lot of credit for. Carried more in the second half, and made one good run in a wide channel in the second half but threw out a pass that was not really on, needed the winger to come inside or for Navidi to straighten up. The Cardiff Blues back-rower should be really pleased with his home debut.

Taulupe Faletau 6/10 – Hard to believe the safest hands in Welsh rugby made 5 handling errors yesterday, 5! Doesn’t normally make 5 handling errors in the whole of a tournament. Was the only ball carrier in the first half for Wales, and was hit back a few times. Not one of his best days, but we all know this world class player will be back to his normal self the next Welsh game he plays.

In terms of the bench, I thought Hallam Amos played well and scored a good try, contentious that it was, but we will take it. For the others not really on the pitch long enough to be able to give a fair rating, I did, however, think Cory Hill came on looking really fired up, carried well a few times and strong in defence, a good cameo role from him.

So there you have it, my thoughts on the Welsh performance, what are your thoughts? Let us know.

Feature Picture Credit: http://www.walesonline.co.uk