When Wales went into the lead against Australia at 28-27, with less than 10 minutes on the clock, I have to admit I doubted they would hold on to win the game. Such is the habit that Wales have made of losing close games to Australia that I no longer believe Wales can win them. Sadly, I was proved right. Using far better game management in the final 10 minutes, Australia scored a drop goal and a penalty to win the game 33-28. That makes it 10 (yes, ten!) wins in a row for Australia over Wales, with the winning margin in each of these being less than a converted try. In this match it was 5 points, in the previous four matches it was 4 points, 2 points, 1 point, and 2 points (working backwards).
This is a game Wales could have won and should have won. The three tries that Australia scored were all down to errors that Wales made. The try that Rhys Webb gave away was a classic example of how naive the Welsh players can be. It came from Australian fullback Israel Folau intercepting a long, speculative miss-pass by the Welsh scrum half, but what on Earth was he doing sending such a pass in the first half of the game? Such risky play is understandable in the last 10 minutes if a side is behind, but to do it in the first half when the sides are fairly equal on the scoreboard is just plain stupid.
Another example of Wales’ stupidity and poor decision making was when we were awarded a penalty with some 7 minutes to go. The scoreboard was at 30-28 to Australia, so a penalty kick would have put us back in the lead. But, Wales squandered the penalty, playing on and losing the ball after the advantage had finished. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Contrast this to Australia’s drop goal. They just drove up the field, going through phase after phase, until they got close enough to slot a drop goal. This is exactly how England won the World Cup back in 2003, when Johnny Wilkinson put over a drop goal to win an incredibly close final. It is not pretty, but it often wins matches. Wales too often want to win with style, which is all very well when you are already well ahead, but in tight games you have to take every point which is on offer.
It is these sort of ridiculous decisions by Wales that, in my opinion, are preventing Wales from taking that step to beating Australia. We have the physical ability and the skill level, and the attacking and defending ability, it is our decision making which is letting us down. Unless we can sort this out, and sort it out soon, we are not going to turn the losing streak we have against Australia around, nor or we going to win other tight games against other teams when the stakes are high.
I sincerely hope that the Wales coaching staff realise that, although they cannot neglect the physical conditioning which they subject the players to, they really need to work on the mental strength and self belief and game management skills. Maybe they need to draft in a sports psychologist to help with this, I don’t know. Ten years ago, Wales ran out of physical puff in the last 15 minutes of match, they just didn’t have the physical conditioning. Those days are gone, we are as fit as any team, but we are woefully laking in game management skills.