Jonathan Davies: Lateral thinking narrows home horizons in waltz for Wallaby wizards

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The Independent Online

Wales managed to gladden the hearts of their fans with some thrills and excitement and even a little hope in a rush of second-half heroics yesterday but they have to admit they were outplayed by opponents who confirmed themselves as genuine contenders for the World Cup.

I have long believed that Australia are capable of beating New Zealand in the semi-finals and I saw nothing in their performance at the Millennium Stadium to make me change my mind. They are so creative and their angles of running make it so difficult for opponents to defend against them.

The scrum is still a problem for them but they are looking more solid there and they do the little things so shrewdly and efficiently that the opposition can never be comfortable. Even their forwards are adept at getting over the gain line and once they cut a team open, as they often did yesterday, they are very clinical.

Losing Stephen Larkham before the game was a major blow but the way Berrick Barnes stepped into the breach at fly-half would have been a big boost for the coach, John Connolly. His performance, especially in the first half, was very composed and the way he dropped his goal and helped create a try meant Larkham was not missed as much as they might have feared.

Wales took so long to get into the game because they played very laterally in the first half. At this level you have to hit the gain line and hit it hard and the home side barely came near it early on. Wales picked two big centres and I thought that would mean they would carry the ball and attempt to create holes that the forwards could target. But the ball just moved across the field and it was easy to contain.

The Welsh forwards tended to run in ones and twos and they so easily became isolated and had the ball turned over. Australia were not committing many defenders to the rucks and mauls and consequently had a well-manned defensive line.

It was a clear case of a wrong tactical approach by Wales and because nothing was happening for them too much possession was not only kicked away, but kicked away badly. They were far more effective when they changed to using a pick-and-drive policy in the second half and were able to suck in more Australian defenders.

When Wales got moving there were some entertaining passing movements and you could feel their confidence rising. But any hope that they could make it a tight finish ended when Chris Latham scored a try on the hour. I'm afraid it will go down as an error by Stephen Jones, who misjudged Latham's kick ahead. The ball bounced luckily for Latham to gather and score but you make your own luck and it was an audacious move by the the Wallaby full-back.

I thought Jones played his usual solid game but he missed a couple of kicks at goal and handed over the kicking to James Hook when the younger man came on. Hook made a nice break that ultimately led to Jonathan Thomas' try but the tendency among the backs was still to move too laterally.

At least Wales came out of the game with a better idea of what they need to do and who is best equipped to do it. If they play to their full potential they should qualify for the quarter-finals, but neither of their remaining pool games will be a walkover and they need to get their act together with a match against South Africa in prospect.

We will need to see more of that second-half panache if the Springboks are going to be bettered.

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