Has a Wales side ever been so dominant in the scrum, in the error count and in the number of turnovers and still ended a match without coming within a score of a result? This was the nagging question last night as Warren Gatland's men ticked off the positives after their eighth defeat in 10 Tests.
The Welsh front row will wonder how they were anything other than winners. The Wallaby scrum was walloped so conclusively it went way beyond the embarrassing. Wales also, in Gatland's words, "did a job on [David] Pocock" at the breakdown, where they "won" eight turnovers to three.
So where was it lost? Well, the visitors had creativity in abundance, while the home side had creativity in bandages. How they missed the likes of Lee Byrne, at full-back. Gatland said he expected to have the Osprey back for next week's fixture against South Africa and he will be mighty glad of it. James Hook can then return to outside-centre and Wales will have a cutting edge. That is the overwhelming hope.
Such optimism is understandable. Shaun Edwards, the defence coach, expressed it most vehemently. "This was a full-strength Australian side who had beaten New Zealand the week before and we were without four or five players I'd like to think are British Lions," he said. "We'll get them all together one day."
Gatland was critical without being his raging self; not against his own team anyway. He declared himself "furious" over an offside decision that led to the first of three Australian tries and also wondered why the collapsing Australian scrum did not elicit a yellow card. That was a genuine gripe, as every scrum seemed to see Wayne Barnes awarding a penalty.
"We were beaten at the hit on numerous occasions, that was the greatest problem," said Australia's coach, Robbie Deans. "It's obviously a concern. We will revisit it."
With Twickenham looming they should do, particularly as England's win Down Under in the summer stemmed from a similar scrum mauling. "We've always found that when we place great emphasis on something we will grow," said Deans. "And that's what we'll be doing."
But while the England props will be licking their lips, their defenders will be scratching their heads. For this Wallaby outfit are little short of sensational with ball in hand and on another day, with the ball sticking, they would have touched down a couple more. The pace of pass is almost as rapid as the speed of thought and with a back three of James O'Connor, Drew Mitchell and Kurtley Beale, they have some firepower.
It was the last-named who scored the game's most important try, to pull his side away in the 47th minute. That came after what Edwards called a "fortuitous ricochet" , although he conceded the finishing was clinical. Wales could have gone into the break ahead but Stephen Jones missed a few penalties and an O'Connor penalty (the 20-year-old ignoring the disgraceful booing on an accomplished afternoon from the tee) and Pocock's fourth-minute try were enough for Australia. It was a lead they perhaps did not deserve.
But then the game opened up and so did their stride. There were some sublime moments from the Wallabies, not least when Beale collected an up-and-under before putting in an audacious grubber kick. Only some fine defence denied Beale one of the more memorable individual tries; Hook forced a knock-on in the shadow of the posts. The prop Ben Alexander then made up for his ineffectiveness in the set-piece by being on hand to finish a wonderful cross-pitch move on the hour and when Tom Shanklin was shown the yellow card for an early tackle on Pocock a few minutes later, it seemed ominous.
But to their credit Wales dug deep and Richie Rees, the replacement scrum-half, went over for the try they deserved with 10 minutes remaining. It came after two re-set scrums on the Australia line. It was the one time Wales managed to capitalise on their outrageous scrummaging advantage. At least it gave a two-thirds full Millennium Stadium something to cheer.
Wales J Hook (Ospreys); W Harries (Dragons), T Shanklin (Cardiff Blues), A Bishop, S Williams (both Ospreys); S Jones (Scarlets), M Phillips (Ospreys); G Jenkins (Blues), M Rees (Scarlets, capt), A Jones (Ospreys), B Davies (Blues), A W Jones (Ospreys), D Lydiate (Dragons), J Thomas (Ospreys), S Warburton (Blues). Replacements M Williams (Blues) for Warburton, 66; D Biggar (Ospreys) for S Jones, 66; R Rees (Blues) for Phillips, 66; P James (Ospreys) for Jenkins, 71; D Jones (Blues) for A W Jones, 75; C Czekaj (Blues) for Shanklin, 75, H Bennett (Ospreys) for M Rees, 75.
Australia K Beale (New South Wales Waratahs); J O'Connor (Western Force), A Ashley-Cooper, M Giteau (both ACT Brumbies), D Mitchell (Waratahs); Q Cooper, W Genia (both Queensland Reds); B Robinson (Waratahs), S Faingaa (Reds), B Alexander, M Chisholm (both Brumbies), N Sharpe (Force), R Elsom (Brumbies, capt), B McCalman, D Pocock (both Force). Replacements H Edmonds (Brumbies) for Faingaa, 54; B Slipper (Reds) for Alexander, 62; B Barnes (Waratahs) for Giteau, 68; L Burgess (Waratahs) for Genia, 74; D Mumm (Waratahs) for Chisholm, 75
Referee W Barnes (England).Reuse content