by Reece Chambers
Wales’ win over Australia in Pool D’s crunch-match last weekend should be ranked up there with the greatest Welsh Rugby World Cup wins of all time.
This win for Wales, in Warren Gatland’s final campaign as Wales boss, illustrates years of consistent development under the New Zealander to become a serious force in world rugby.
For all of the Rugby World Cup’s magic, there is still a significant imbalance between the top tier sides and the rest. Last weekend’s encounter in Pool D between Wales and Australia, therefore, made it even more of a spectacle.
The word spectacle is often overused in sports reporting, but the clash between two of world rugby’s best sides certainly fits the billing. It was a clash of two titans, perhaps made all the more intriguing by the fact that it wasn’t even a knock-out match.
To the untrained eye, anyone could have assumed that the match-up was towards the business end of the tournament. The very fact that Dan Biggar slotted a drop-kick over just 36 seconds into the encounter showed the importance of the game to both teams.
An unrivalled amount of physicality went into the Pool D encounter which is rarely seen in group stage matches. But what made this match most fascinating was the swing in momentum between both halves.
Wales led 26-8 at the break, but with Dan Biggar failing a Head Injury Assessment in the first half, there was always a sense that Australia would get back into the game – and that they did.
The opening 40 minutes saw Wales take their chances with conviction and precision. Gareth Davies’ interception and eventual try following a 40-metre dash showed Wales to have Australia right where they wanted them – on the back foot.
But when you face a side like Australia – who beat the All Blacks 47-26 in August – you are fully aware of the fact that you will face an onslaught at some stage of the game.
Wales’ total of six points in the second half, compared to 23 in the first half, signifies just how important it is to have a resilient defensive unit. A total of 183 tackles, at a success rate of 86%, shows the world class level to which Shaun Edwards has taken this Welsh side.
Yes, Australian went over the whitewash on two occasions in the second half. But, in truth, limited the Australian side to three tries shows tremendous strength in defence.
In sum, Wales’ defence won earned them another tremendous win in 2019 – following the Grand Slam victory earlier this year. But this may be the greatest Welsh rugby win in recent years. It showcased an ability to mix it with the best, in both defence and attack, for one of the first times in a major tournament.
Of course, beating England at Twickenham in 2015 to knock them out of the World Cup may have carried more sentimental value. But in terms of combining an offensive and defensive game into one, the win over Australia was up there with the very best.
In a group that typifies the superiority of top tier teams in world rugby, Sunday’s clash between Wales and Australia was assumed to be a straight shoot-out for the top position in Pool D. The winner of the blockbuster group stage match, if logic is to be estimated through world rankings, should see them through as winners of Pool D and therefore face an easier route to the Rugby World Cup final in November.
The adjective easier is the important word there. Rugby has a habit of conjuring up a shock – see Japan vs South Africa in 2015 or Japan vs Ireland earlier in this tournament.
Gatland and his players will be all too aware of that ahead of a test against Fiji on October 9. If his players can continue at performance levels as seen against Australia, Gatland will have the belief that he can finish his final Welsh campaign with the illustrious Webb Ellis trophy he is yet to win.