The fallout had started long before Wayne Barnes blew time on Wales’s record defeat of Australia in Lyon, and has continued largely unabated since.
The coach says he’s sorry for the performance, and takes full responsibility for the results, which is something. He also remains committed to staying in Australia, he says. And he could well be, but I’m sure he was committed to the Stormers in 2015, too.
But that will be then, and the now is still now. And the now still hurts.
At halftime, and especially after the Wallabies held Welsh flyer Louis Rees-Zammit up over the line after conceding penalty advantage for I-can’t-even-remember-what-now, my feeling was that 16-6 wasn’t such an insurmountable score to make up.
They’d have to score first and I said as much on the socials. But Wales weren’t playing such perfect rugby that there weren’t opportunities there.
“Better ruck composure, better cleanouts needed. Other game basics need to be better,” I said on whatever Twitter is called this week.
“Not out of this contest though. Not yet.”
Score first after the break, 16-13 with new momentum, and this game was on. Or so I figured.
Instead, it went about as poorly as it could have. Where the Wallabies needed to start strongly and play with confidence, they stuttered immediately and fell into a downward spiral of stage fright.
From the restart to the Australian 22, Richie Arnold got up comfortably to take Gareth Anscombe’s precision drop-kick, but Pone Fa’amausili and Tom Hooper held him up for just a fraction of a second too long, meaning there were four Welsh defenders within arms-reach before he’d come back to earth.
By the time his feet did reach terra firma, Nick Tompkins was already latched onto his front as the three other Welshmen flooded in from behind. Rob Valetini tried to combat Tompkins from behind Arnold, which just made Barnes’ “that’s now a maul” call easier to make, and the Welsh were never, ever letting go at that point.
More Australians and more Welsh joined in, it kind of turned ninety degrees in some sort of eight-to-twelve-man waltz, and Barnes whistled a very obvious turnover.
The clock has barely finished re-appearing on the screen, and read 40:16.
Wales’s scrum had been in trouble in the first half, but here came the start of the turnaround. “Nice height, everyone,” Barnes repeated, continuing his theme from the first half.
Crouch. Bind. Set. “Keep high, keep high,” Barnes continues. “Yes, Gareth,” comes the signal to feed the scrum, which is on the move almost immediately. Whistle. Australia well past the ninety-degree wheel.
“Just ran towards me, push straight, please,” Barnes said, instantly reminding me of that semi-successful #ScrumStraightJoe hashtag I may have initiated back at the 2015 tournament.
We’re just 89 seconds into the second half.
Anscombe kicks the penalty attempt, and it’s 19-6 already. Australian fans were still making their way back to their seats after getting some air during the break.
Australia restarts down to the Welsh 22. Davies launches a box kick past the Australian ten-metre line and Andrew Kellaway tracks infield before straightening to find a couple of metres past halfway.
The Wallabies play wide through Ben Donaldson to Jordan Petaia, who never looks outside and finds ground back in the Welsh half. Fa’amausili carries for the second phase.
They play open again to Donaldson, who begins loading up his pass before he turns to the open side, releasing the ball and his immediate exasperation as he sees Davies pick off his pass and getting almost to the Wallabies ten-metre line where Kellaway started from.
Wales play a couple of phases and Anscombe kicks to the Australian 22 where Mark Nawaqanitawase takes the high ball well, but he’s taken in the air by Josh Adams.
‘Righto, get it right from here’, I’m thinking to myself, as the first signs of daylight sneak through my office blinds.
Wallabies lineout just short of the Welsh ten-metre line to set up an attacking raid. The throw is an inswinger like Terry Alderman used to terrorise Poms with. Opportunity lost.
Another scrum; more instruction from Barnes, and Australia’s reaction to Wales driving through is to retreat around the corner. Penalty advantage, but Davies pulls the ball out and drills a left-footed grubber kick ahead for either Adams or the Australian 22. It’s the latter; Welsh lineout throw in attacking territory.
Wales throw to the front and Jac Morgan peels away with the ball to feed Davies and then Anscombe, who is already turned in find Adams in a neat play Kellaway has scored tries from himself.
The Wallabies look for the counter but can’t dent the Welsh ruck. Five forward pod carries to make a couple of metres, at best. Wider next to Tompkins and George North, before another centring pod carry. Then Anscombe spots it, and calls Davies for the ball next play.
In a defensive alignment that I’ve not understood all season, Kellaway is not stationed behind the ruck, directly in front of his posts, but instead has run across to the far left outside Marika Koroibete. I’ll repeat a request asked in recent weeks: if anyone can explain why this makes sense for me, I’m all ears.
Anscombe gets the quick-release chip kick away and Adams can barely contain his onside-ness, such is his excitement at what is about to play out for him. He wins the race to the ball easily, which sits up on the first and only bounce, and he scores behind the left upright.
47:39 on the clock as Barnes’ whistle sounds, it’s 24-6 with a kick to come from right in front, and that kids, was the beginning of the end for Australia’s French sojourn at Coupe du Monde de Rugby 2023.
Take off the minute or so for stoppage time already, and where I thought they still could get back into the game from is gone, long gone. In six-and-a-half minutes.
Donaldson was replaced only five or six minutes later, and the Wallabies were again left to chase a game with not a lot of possession and no recent success of doing it.
Instead, Anscombe kicked two more penalties and a drop goal because he could, before Morgan scored a great captain’s try to consign Australian fans to this malaise of review and ‘what just happened’s that we’re now into our second depressing day of.
And I don’t detail that just to make you all relive it, but simply to highlight just how bloody easy it was for Wales. They didn’t really have to pose that many questions, just wait for the inevitable Australian mistake.
Why there were so many mistakes and why there were no calming voices out on the field to try and help the young team out of the growing hole they were caught in will be for the customary review to decide, and I suppose for the Rugby Australia board to decide who will implement any recommendations made.
Who will review the reviewers is a question many of you and us have been asking since fulltime in Lyon, and that’s a not unreasonable thing to ponder.
Because for sure, the reason it all fell apart so quickly on the field was because of hasty decisions made and rosy futures painted off it.
And for a game supposed entering its golden decade (that only goes for eight years), Australian rugby has lost a whole lot of lustre in the last few days.