Australia 20-19 Wales, Sydney, June 23
Belief can fire future success for Wales
June 23, 2012
Wales' Leigh Halfpenny reflects on another narrow defeat for his side © PA Photos
Those who claim Wales will return home empty-handed having been narrowly beaten in the third and final Test against Australia are wrong - they will be able to board the long flight home with precious and hard-earned belief.
They have shown in the last three weeks that they can not only compete with one of the world's best side on their own patch but also push them to the brink. They may have been whitewashed 3-0 in the series but they only lost by a combined 11 points over the three games. That level of consistency and stamina underlines the great strides they have taken in recent months and this tour, despite being fruitless, may yet come to be viewed as a key stage in their development.
Sadly their consistency on this tour also stretches to their shortcomings. Rarely will they get the chance to heap woe on the Wallabies on Australian soil and that repeated failure to close out games that were there for the taking may yet come to haunt them as the race for the top four spots in the IRB rankings intensifies ahead of the 2015 Rugby World Cup draw later in the year.
Given the intense nature of the series and the demands of a long series, Wales could perhaps be forgiven the odd lapse in concentration but in the main their defence was sound. The penalty count was alarming, as was their inability to adjust their game plan to referee Craig Joubert who took a clear disliking to their work at the breakdown, but the most damaging errors arguably came at the re-start when time and time again they gifted the initiative back to the hosts having worked hard for a vital score.
In contrast, Australia were sharp from the first whistle to the last with captain David Pocock at the heart of their quest to complete a hat-trick of victories over the Six Nations Grand Slam champions. Their superior composure was perhaps best illustrated in the closing moments of the game with Wales once again in a prime position to register their first victory over the Wallabies in Australia since 1969.
The tourists opted for the catch and drive but the streetwise Wallabies backed off from the lineout as Wales grouped together in the hope of driving towards the line. As a result, Joubert wasted no time in blowing for a 'truck and trailer' offence that robbed the visitors of the ball. Just two minutes later Berrick Barnes slotted what would be the match-winning penalty. There would be no dramatic turnaround as there was in Melbourne seven days ago with Australia's composure in closing out the game a far cry from Wales' self-induced capitulation at the Docklands Stadium.
Credit must go to the Wallabies for the gutsy way they have rallied since being stunned by Scotland in their season-opener. Coach Robbie Deans' job was seemingly on the line with Europe's finest landed on his shores confident of not only notching a win but claiming the series. Having weathered that storm he has earned himself some breathing space but on the recent evidence his side have some way to go to match the current form of New Zealand and South Africa and Argentina may well be sniffing their first Rugby Championship scalp.
The void between Wales and the Wallabies is no way near as daunting and when the disappointment of their latest setback fades they will see that they have good reason to relish the end of year internationals and the chance to redress the balance.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.