Howley vows to come back stronger after Wales heartache


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The Independent Online

Wales will brush aside the disappointment of losing their series against Australia in a cliff-hanger here on Saturday and set their sights on finishing the tour on a high note by prevailing in their dead rubber Test in Sydney, according to their stand-in coach Rob Howley.

The Wales coaches wore forlorn faces following the 25-23 defeat at Docklands Stadium, which was secured by the Wallabies' replacement back Mike Harris' dramatic last-minute penalty kick.

But, said Howley, the team had recovered from disappointments before and would do so again. "It'll be our strongest team next week. This group has been in some dark places, particularly in the World Cup," he added, alluding to Wales's 9-8 semi-final defeat to France in New Zealand last year after playing most of the match a man down.

"[I'm] immensely proud of the effort and character and everything which we've done in terms of the positives of the game. I think that we'll come back stronger. We're getting closer. We're not far away, are we? We can take great credit for that."

After losing the first Test 27-19 in Brisbane, Wales fulfilled their promise to strengthen their defence and shut down Wallabies playmaker Will Genia in the Etihad Stadium, but were left to rue a lack of composure to close out the match.

Attempting to hang on to a one-point lead in the final minutes, Wales kicked the ball away and handed possession back to the Wallabies who subsequently unleashed a powerful rolling maul to win a penalty within kickable range of the posts. New Zealand-born Harris's kick denied Wales a first victory on Australian soil since 1969.

Australia have now beaten the Welsh in all four of their matches over the past year, including the bronze-medal decider at the World Cup and a subsequent rematch at the Millennium Stadium in December.

"We spoke in the changing room about lacking composure," said Howley, who is standing in for the injured coach Warren Gatland. "We're hugely disappointed having outscored Australia two tries to one. I thought the game without the ball was absolutely outstanding. I thought we negated a lot of Australia's strength. We stopped Genia doing what he did last weekend and we negated a lot of their power runners.

"We're not far away... but in our emotional intelligence and composure in critical areas of the game and points in the game we need to get better and we'll focus on those throughout the week in our preparations."

The Australia coach, Robbie Deans, although pleased, expressed his unhappiness at how his side let Wales back into the contest after holding a six-point half-time lead.

"There was some good stuff," he said. "We produced a lot of pressure but the fact is we let Wales back into the game. One soft seven-pointer, one act of ill-discipline and all of a sudden we're under the pump when we probably had asked enough to produce more up to that point."

There was further news of concern for Australia when the wing Cooper Vanu was cited for a dangerous tackle on Leigh Halfpenny during the match. If found guilty he could miss the third Test.

Australia: Tries Horne; Conversion Barnes; Penalties Barnes (5), Harris. Wales: Tries North, Davies; Cons Halfpenny (2); Pens Halfpenny (3).

Australia: A Ashley-Cooper; C Vuna (A Fainga'a, 71), R Horne, P McCabe, D Ioane; B Barnes (M Harris, 74), W Genia; B Robinson (B Alexander, 64), T Polota-Nau (S Moore, 51), S Kepu, R Simmons (M Hooper, 70), N Sharpe, S Higginbotham, D Pocock (capt), W Palu (D Dennis, 55).

Wales: L Halfpenny; A Cuthbert, J Davies, A Beck, G North; R Priestland, M Phillips (R Webb, 66); G Jenkins, M Rees (R Hibbard, 68), A Jones, B Davies, A Wyn Jones (L Charteris, 68), D Lydiate, S Warburton (capt), R Jones.

Referee: C Pollock (New Zealand).