Wales 20 Australia 32: Jenkins insists Wales can progress despite damaging defeat

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The Independent Online

To Gareth Jenkins the glass is always half full, and that's the trouble. Under his leadership Wales have a record of coming up short and this defeat has earmarked them as another northern hemisphere country to exit the World Cup at the first knockout stage. If they cannot beat Australia in Cardiff, how are they going to beat South Africa in a quarter-final in Marseilles? No problem, according to Jenkins.

"If we get to the quarter-finals, we can beat anybody," he said. "That's always been my view." What has also been his view is that Wales can win the World Cup, but nobody believes him, not even in his own country. On Saturday, in a match that wavered between the brutal and the beautiful, Australia had it won by half-time, when they led 25-3.

They are one of the biggest teams in the tournament and they leave their mark. Gareth Thomas, the Wales captain who won his 99th cap on Saturday, may be denied No 100 after being shoulder-charged by Stirling Mortlock, the Wallaby captain. It may have been payback for Thomas performing a similar deed on Berrick Barnes, seconds after the Australian stand-off – a late replacement for the injured Stephen Larkham – had brilliantly created a try for Matt Giteau. Thomas, who has a chest injury, is expected to retire from Test rugby after the World Cup, so the century may elude him. The centre Sonny Parker, who was carried off with a groin injury after another heavy tackle, is out of the tournament and Wales had to reshuffle their back line within the first 22 minutes. Lee Byrne and Garin Evans are expected to join the squad. Gavin Henson is not.

Wales did enough in the second half not to justify Jenkins' optimism, but to outscore Australia 17-7, with tries from Jonathan Thomas and the irrepressible Shane Williams. They were done for, though, by the remarkable Australia full-back Chris Latham. His strength enabled him to score a crucial try in first-half injury time and then, just as Wales were finding form and momentum, he put up a high ball which was completely misjudged by Stephen Jones and could not have had a kinder bounce.

Latham, who also flattened Kevin Morgan with a high and late assault, followed up to score and was named man of the match. He avoided a yellow card that would have matched his jersey, a fate that befell his team-mates Drew Mitchell and Nathan Sharpe.

So Wales failed, at the Millennium Stadium, to overcome an Australian side who at times were depleted. For the Wallabies a quarter-final awaits against England, if the red rose brigade beat Samoa and Tonga. For Wales, this was a great opportunity lost. Of course, Jenkins did not see it like that.

"The momentum we created and the chaos we can bring to defences had Australia in some trouble in the second half, he said, "and they are the second-best team in the world." No prizes for guessing the best and, despite Jenkins' patriotism, it is not Wales.

Jenkins added: "At half-time we knew we were a better team than our first-half display. We showed in the second half that Wales have a game that can pressurise the best sides, like Australia. We emerged with an amount of credit as we proved to ourselves, as much as anyone else, that we have something to offer this tournament."

Wales must beat Japan – they will be refreshingly smaller than the Australians – at the Millennium Stadium on Thursday and Fiji in France on Saturday week to progress.

Wales: Tries J Thomas, S Williams; Conversions Hook 2; Penalties S Jones, Hook. Australia: Tries Giteau, Mortlock, Latham 2; Conversions Mortlock 2, Giteau; Penalty Mortlock; Drop goal Barnes.

Wales: G Thomas (capt); M Jones, T Shanklin, S Parker, S Williams; S Jones, D Peel; G Jenkins, M Rees, A Jones, I Gough, A-W Jones, C Charvis, M Williams, J Thomas. Replacements: K Morgan for S Parker, 18; J Hook for G Thomas, 22; T R Thomas for Rees, 66; D Jones for A Jones, 66; M Owen for Gough, 66; M Phillips for Peel, 70.

Australia: C Latham; D Mitchell, S Mortlock (capt), M Giteau, L Tuqiri; B Barnes, G Gregan; M Dunning, S Moore, G Shepherdson, N Sharpe, D Vickerman, R Elsom, G Smith, W Palu. Replacements: S Staniforth for Mortlock, 41; P Waugh for Smith, 64; S Hoiles for Palu, 66; A Freier for Moore, 68; A Baxter for Shepherdson, 73; M Chisholm for Elsom, 76; J Huxley for Barnes, 78.

Referee: S Walsh (New Zealand).