Best of the Weekend: Wales fall at the final hurdle

Same old story for Wales

Australia turned in one of the performances of their season, as they saw off the challenge of Wales at a packed Millennium Stadium, triumphing 30-26. Arguably the best test of the QBE Internationals, neutrals were treated to a ferocious and intense match, but ultimately the skill of Quade Cooper at fly half, and the tenacity of Australia at the breakdown, were enough to edge the result in their favour. George North, Toby Faletau, and Alun Wyn Jones in particular shone for Wales, but a combination of injuries and a resurgent Wallaby performance, meant that Wales are still left searching for that elusive win against one of the southern hemisphere’s ‘Big Three’. Wales have now lost 18 consecutive tests against the SANZAR nations, and turning their impressive Six Nations form into wins against these sides remains Warren Gatland’s biggest headache, as attentions turn inevitably towards the Rugby World Cup in 2015.

Saracens comeback keeps them top, poor form continues for Gloucester and Irish

An inspired first half performance from Danny Cipriani nearly led to Sale recording a highly unexpected victory over Saracens at Allianz Park, but a late comeback from the home side kept up the status quo, and Saracens emerged with a 24-19 victory. Sale had led 13-6 at the interval, thanks largely to a try and drop-goal from Cipriani, but Saracens showed their strength in the second half, and tries from Jack Wilson and George Kruis were enough for them erase the deficit and give themselves a lead which they would go on to hold until the final whistle. Bath and Northampton strengthened their playoff aspirations with wins, as Saints comfortably beat Worcester, 33-10, at Sixways, whilst Bath were made to work harder at The Rec, narrowly overcoming a resilient Exeter side, 21-16.

Leicester recorded an important away win, beating Gloucester 22-17 at Kingsholm on Friday night, and a losing bonus point was all that the Cherry and Whites had to show for their efforts, and were it not for Worcester’s winless campaign thus far, their dismal form could have them embroiled in a relegation dogfight. London Wasps put in an excellent defensive performance to secure themselves an away win, as they triumphed 19-12 over London Irish at the Madejski, and thanks to a plethora of bonus points picked up earlier in the season, moved themselves to within striking distance of the playoff race. Round nine was wrapped up in the North-East, as Harlequins put Newcastle to the sword in a 35-9 victory, with winger Sam Smith pivotal to the visitors picking up a winning bonus point, as he grabbed a brace of tries and generally tormented the Newcastle defence.

Weekend to forget for the Welsh in the PRO12

Welsh misery certainly carried over from the international arena to the PRO12 this weekend, as none of the four regions were able to record wins, although with many of their stars taking on Australia, the results are understandable. Both the Ospreys and the Dragons fell at home to in-form sides, as they lost to Glasgow and Munster respectively, though Newport should be heartened by their effort against Munster. The Dragons led Munster for much of the game, but unfortunately ill-discipline cost Newport, and Ian Keatley was able to kick Munster into a winning position, as the fly half’s six penalties accounted for all of Munster’s points. Leinster blew the Scarlets away early, as they took a 22-0 lead into the interval, and although the Scarlets staged a brief comeback, it was not enough to turn the game in their favour, and they ultimately lost, 36-19. Cardiff were the only Welsh side to avoid defeat, securing a 26-26 draw with Treviso, and given their early season form and missing internationals, it’s a result the Cardiff faithful will likely be content with.

Elsewhere, Ulster narrowly edged out Zebre, 19-11, in Italy, but the performance of the round was certainly turned in by Edinburgh, who triumphed at home against Connacht, 43-10. Greig Laidlaw was reliable as ever with the boot, contributing 23 of Edinburgh’s 43 points, whilst Dougie Fife, Cornell du Preez, Nick De Luca, and WP Nel all crossed the try line for the home side. Edinburgh’s first bonus point of the season came courtesy of an extremely strong finish, as three of their four tries were scored in the last 10 minutes of the game. The conclusion of round nine of the Rabo sees Munster maintain their lead at the top of the table, although Leinster, Glasgow, and Ulster are close behind, and all kept pace with the leaders, thanks to wins this weekend.

Try of the Week goes to Christian Lealiifano for his effort against Wales. Superb offloads from Quade Cooper and Joe Tomane in the build up helped dissect the Welsh defence, and Lealiifano was able to profit, after running the perfect support line.

Quade Cooper is the Hero of the Week, as his performance against Wales showed that he is finally ready to realise his potential as one of the best fly halves in the game. His decision making and offloading were excellent in Cardiff on Saturday, and he seems now to play with a maturity that many wondered if he would ever have earlier in his career. His problems have been well publicised over the years, but they look to be behind him now, and he looks primed to make the world sit up and take notice.

Ultimately the Villain of the Week this week is the fact players were unable to represent their respective countries. There is blame on all sides, whether that is because nations have arranged tests outside of international windows, or clubs deny the players the opportunity to play, due to regulations enforced by their respective bodies. The George North saga had everyone talking, but the Fijian side that played the Barbarians was shorn of many of their stars, thanks to fact they had to go back to their clubs after their victory over Romania the previous week. There is no easy solution, but more communication and cooperation is needed, particularly between the clubs, league bodies, and international unions.

by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

9 thoughts on “Best of the Weekend: Wales fall at the final hurdle

  1. Villain of the Week.

    Mike Phillips stamp on Cooper?

    For me the biggest villain was whoever called George North to be at the tail of the line out when Wales were a man up in the backs!

    Secure the ball, forward power, create the overlap and whip the ball out wide for a match winning try… Textbook surely.

  2. Andy, in fairness, Wales have form in this move being successful, so whilst it didn’t work, it wasn’t necessarily the wrong call at the time.

    They had a lineout on the 5m, which meant that the Aussie backs were only 5m back, with no space behind them to defend. Even with 14 v 15, this makes it far easier to defend wide. Its very difficult to score wide from a 5m lineout because of the space advantage that ironically benefits the defence.

    1. Disagree Blub. It worked once for them as a novelty. Everyone knew what was coming this time.

      With Aus a man down in the backs, that ball needed to go wide quickly

      1. Pablito, if it is executed well, it doesn’t matter if the defenders know it is coming. Just ask Neil Back, and the old Leicester pack.

        As for the extra man, it is far easier to negate this, when you are on your own line. Because of where your defensive line starts, you naturally push the tackle line back in your favour, and you can add to your line because the blind side winger and full back have very little space to cover. Because it is a line out, it is far easier to drift from the tail as well, so the advantage is nullified.

        To take advantage you have to tie in the loosies and stretch the defense, and this is very difficult from such a position.

        From a Welsh perspective, they can load the lineout, if it works they score, if they get held, then the likes of North and others can return to the line.

        If they can’t secure the line ball in the first instance then it really doesn’t matter where George North is standing.

        1. I completely agree. However, I thought it was a mistake for the Welsh to take the lineout instead of the points (each time). They were the wrong call in that situation because there was plenty of time to score again. With a player up, Wales could have easily put themselves in the position for points or a try. Wales lost out on at least six points and they could have kept possession for the last ten minutes.

          Wales lost because their decision making was second best.

  3. Agree with all of that Andy. That was nasty by Phillips, I hope he gets banned. Perhaps he should concentrate on his game rather than trying to constantly pick fights

    If he had put as much energy into tackling Folau as did into all his chat, Wales might have won…

    As for the line-out call, just cannot understand what they were thinking. Likewise the decisions to kick possession away with only a couple of mins left. When the ABs needed a last minute score against Ireland, you didn’t seem them booting the ball back to the Irish.

    1. Pablito, as for that kick at the end, I could not agree more. That really was criminal, and had all the hallmarks of a really muddled brain. Was it Priestland? I can’t imagine he will recall that with any fondness.

  4. Some fantastic rugby this weekend.

    It continues to amaze me that people still rate Phillips. Other than the England 6N game, I honestly can not remember the last time I saw him play well. I’m genuinely thinking back years here.

    Lions tour he was absolutely useless, 6N before that game he was awful as well.

    Unless Wales find world class half backs form somewhere, I think they will struggle to make the step up into ‘World Class’ level.

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