Wales are staring down the barrel
WALES are staring down the barrel of an unprecedented autumn whitewash with Australia arriving in Cardiff on the back of two morale-boosting victories.
Saturday’s heavy 33-10 defeat to New Zealand was a sixth on the trot this year for Warren Gatland’s men.
His side will have to produce something special to stop that run being extended to seven this weekend against the Wallabies.
The Wales management were desperately trying to accentuate the positives after the All Blacks defeat but the World Cup winners stopped playing for the last half an hour after they’d gone 33-0 up.
The sad song remains the same, it’s all been heard before with nonsense talked about this latest defeat being another step on some imaginary ‘learning curve’.
The stark truth is, New Zealand took their foot off the gas with England to face this weekend.
They could have racked up 60 points if they’d felt like it.
They were toying with them but one absurd quote from Team Wales labelled the ‘contest’ as that, most tiresome of sporting clichés, “a game of two halves”.
They were watching a different match to the one I and almost everyone else saw.
That was followed up by another preposterous Gatland one-liner when he referred to the unprovoked attack New Zealand hooker Andrew Hore’s launched on Wales’ Bradley Davies, which knocked the lock out in the opening minutes.
Without a hint of irony and a deadpan straight face, the New Zealander opined of his fellow countrymen that: “You don’t normally associate the All Blacks with being a side that resorts to cheap shots”.
Can I jog his memory a little? Doesn’t he perhaps recall Tana Umaga and Keven Mealamu’s disgraceful spear tackle on Lions captain Brian O’Driscoll in 2005’s first Test that kept the Ireland centre out of the game for seven months.
Intimidation has always has always been a part of their game. There are positives that Wales can take into the Wallabies game, such as openside and captain Sam Warburton recapturing his form after a fine game and the excellent performance of centre Jonathan Davies, back after his groin injury.
Wales were also far better on Saturday than they were in the abject performances against Argentina and Samoa which saw them humiliated 26-12 and 26-19 respectively, but that wasn’t difficult.
The major setback over Los Pumas was hammered home in Dublin on Saturday when Ireland crushed them 46-24.
Australia’s confidence will be high after a fine 20-14 victory over England in Twickenham a fortnight ago with full back Berrick Barnes outstanding, as was pocket battleship openside flanker Michael Hooper who has been an admirable deputy for the injured David Pocock.
They ground out another important win against the rugged Italians on Saturday and the bad news for Wales is that Pocock is expected to be fit to face them this weekend.
He was sublime in their 3-0 series victory over Warburton’s team in the summer, the Wallabies having the edge over Wales up front as they shaded all three of those triumphs.
The home side will be looking to avenge that hat trick of defeats, feeling perhaps they are due a break.
There’s also the small matter of the International Rugby Board’s world rankings.
Wales need to win to stay in the top eight, for if they lose they will fall to ninth place below Argentina and Samoa, and face a much tougher draw for the 2015 World Cup.
That would see the Grand Slam champions ranked alongside Italy, Tonga and Scotland in tier three of the seedings.
Wales have gone through an autumn series without winning a game before, as recently as 2010 when they lost to Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, only a lame 16-16 draw with Fiji saving them from a whitewash. This year it is likely they will lose all four.
What a fall from grace that would be for a Grand Slam side who looked to have had the world at their feet just eight months ago.