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Wallabies down but not out after Wales loss

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Expert
29th September, 2019
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The history of the World Cup tournament says that a team that loses a pool match has never gone on to win the Webb Ellis trophy.

But there have been a couple of close encounters that threatened to change this.

France lost two World Cup pool matches in 2011, to New Zealand and Tonga, and came back to lose 8-7 in the final.

England lost to South Africa in the pool phase of the 2007 World Cup in a landslide defeat and came back to give the Springboks a tough, close encounter before losing to penalty goals.

Could this be the tournament when a team that loses a pool round match turns around and carries off the Webb Ellis trophy?

This scenario is going to happen sometime and this tournament might be the time.

We now have three potential winners of the tournament – South Africa, Ireland and Australia – all going into the finals with a pool loss marring their record.

So my take on the Wallabies’ loss to Wales is that they, like Ireland and South Africa, are down but not yet out.

This has been a bizarre World Cup so far.

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It would not surprise if bizarre results like Japan’s convincing win over Ireland – a boil-over on a par with Japan’s defeat of South Africa in 2015 World Cup – continue throughout the finals.

The point is that Ireland would probably defeat Japan the next four times they play.

And similarly if the Wallabies play Wales again in the finals, you would not put money on Wales pulling off another victory.

Incidentally, this was the first victory in a World Cup Wales have recorded against the Wallabies since 1987.

Gareth Davies

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

It was a victory that was virtually handed to Wales by some careless play by the Wallabies in the first half.

The careless play revolved around the halfback combination of Will Genia and Bernard Foley.

They played with such a lack of combination that you would think they had been introduced to each other for the first time at the beginning of the match.

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It was a loose pass, after Wales had converted a controversial penalty, that led to a brilliant interception by Gareth Davies, who seems to have inherited some of the genius genes of the real Gareth the halfback, Sir Gareth Edwards.

Wales chased the kick off hard. They smashed Michael Hooper. They swarmed over him and won the turnover. Then Dan Biggar dropped back into the pocket like a quarterback, and calmly kicked a drop goal.

Then Biggar recovered from a Michael Hooper shoulder-charge, and kicked wide to the extremity of the field guarded by Marika Koroibete.

Koroibete is no Israel Folau under a high ball. Hadleigh Parkes pulled in the catch easily and Wales had scored their first try.

At this stage of the match, it looked like Wales were going to surge away for a victory.

But to the credit of the Wallabies, virtually the first time they got their hands on the ball inside the Wales half, they constructed a series of surging plays rather like those that disconcerted the All Blacks at Perth.

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And like the All Blacks, Wales had no answer to the smashing runs, some slick passing and footwork, and then a clever kick from Foley that was gathered in by a rampaging Adam Ashley-Cooper to score a try that was not converted.

Penalties were exchanged between the two sides and then came the incident that decided the match in the 28th minute. More accurately, the intervention by the TMO, New Zealander Ben Skeen determined the outcome of the match.

Wales were awarded a penalty when Samu Kerevi raised his forearm towards the throat of Welsh five-eighth Rhys Patchell.

Kerevi’s style of raising his elbow as a way of protecting the ball and fending off a tackler in a collision is always fraught.

And replays of the incident did show some contact with the throat of Patchell.

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The interesting aspect of the incident was that the illegality of Kerevi’s style of running was raised as a defence by the Wallabies to the charge of a head-high collision against Reece Hodge, for which he is serving a three-week penalty.

This argument, which had merit, was that it was the Fijian runner not Hodge who was responsible for the collision.

In a discussion earlier in the week, I pointed out that it was only a matter of time before a runner is going to be penalised for putting his shoulder or his fore-arm into the throat or head of a tackler.

The irony is that the first runner to be punished for this action at this World Cup tournament was a Wallaby.

Michael Hooper carried on arguing with the referee Romain Poite, which was OK. But when he suggested that the Wallabies couldn’t get anything from the officials, he went too far.

Michael Hooper

(Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

But, to his credit, from then on Hooper let his action speak louder than any of his rejected words. He played a blinder and even won an important line-out in the second half when the Wallabies were surging with a genuine jump and catch.

Unfortunately for the Wallabies they dropped their composure terribly after this Kerevi incident when Patchell slotted the penalty shot.

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Then came the interception that turned the game violently towards Wales giving the Six Nations champions a 23-8 lead at half-time.

Before the Patchell incident and the interception, sideline observer Rod Kafer said Wales are looking tired.

And in his half-time summary, Kafer blasted the Wallabies for their stupid play and over-reaction to decisions going against them. But, he insisted, if the Wallabies played more directly he believed that they could pull off an unlikely victory.

Wales scored an early field goal and then remained scoreless as the Wallabies, using the direct Perth method – with Matt Toomua playing an aggressive blinder replacing Foley – started to pull back the lead Wales had established.

The scoreline got to 26-25 following a tries by Dane Haylett-Petty and Michael Hooper, then a penalty by Toomua.

Wales kicked off after this successful penalty. And, fatefully for the Wallabies, Nic White – who had been energetic and lively with his passing and running – put in a fateful box kick.

As soon as he made the kick, which was not intended to go into touch, I had a feeling that he had probably kicked the game away from the Wallabies.

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The Wallabies had over 70 per cent of possession in the second half. And the weight of this possession was squeezing the last dredges of resistance from the Welsh defenders.

Now White had given Wales some precious possession relief, around the halfway mark. The Wallabies conceded a penalty.

Wales went for a line-out inside the Wallabies 22. The Welsh jumper had Wallabies hands over him during his leap.

And Patchell, a dead-eyed kicker, booted over the penalty, giving Wales a four-point buffer, which they defended not without alarms until the final whistle.

In those last desperate minutes of play, as the Wallabies threw everything at the Welsh defenders, half the lights in the stadium went out.

There is a metaphor somewhere in this.

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For the Wallabies, they are half out of the tournament. But not entirely out.

They showed enough to suggest that any team they play in the finals is going to have a hard time defeating them.

Moreover, for now anyway, Michael Cheika has solved his No.10 problem with Matt Toomua providing the answer with a dominating performance.

The Wallabies are down after losing to Wales in this pool match. But they are not out… yet.