Date: June 15 2012
It did not take long after last Saturday's Wallabies victory for a familiar lament to be heard. In a London television studio, former Welsh No.8 Scott Quinnell and Michael Lynagh (happily back at work, the best sight of the weekend) politely but pointedly took opposing sides on the legality of Australia's breakdown work.
The following day one of Fleet Street's finest agent provocateurs reported that the Welsh had been contemplating an official complaint to the International Rugby Board about Craig Joubert's whistleblowing, such was the unhappiness in the visitors' camp. The contact area remains more flammable than politics as a conversation topic.
But less opaque reasons explain why the Wallabies lead 1-0, and they begin well before the breakdown. Wales, particularly in the first quarter, failed to exert any control through their crucial 8-9-10 axis. Wycliff Palu, Will Genia and Berrick Barnes outplayed their opponents. The Welsh, having built their Six Nations success on territory, built a prison in their own half and could not get out of it. Territory of 56.1 per cent during the northern winter shrunk to 44.5 per cent at Suncorp.
Welsh five-eighth Rhys Priestland's night will be best remembered for a costly knock-on in the second half but the tone had been set long before.
After 12 minutes the Welsh No.9, Mike Phillips, received clean ball from a lineout inside Welsh territory and put up a poor kick that was way too deep to encourage any chaser. It was comfortably taken and returned by Adam Ashley-Cooper, who had ample time to pursue his kick. From the resulting clearance, Barnes, again under no duress, launched the bomb that was then dropped by Priestland with Digby Ioane bearing down on him.
The Welsh then had a third chance to clear their lines in the same passage of play after Rob Horne ignored an overlap and a certain try to cough up possession. But with his pack gasping for respite, Phillips failed to find touch and invited the Wallabies downfield again. Several phases later Scott Higginbotham simply walked through the middle of the defence. For a team with such stated high ambitions at this level it was poor stuff - a hat-trick of avoidable mistakes against a side that already needs little encouragement.
The mistakes kept coming. Twice from restarts, in the 9th and 17th minutes, Priestland kicked deep into the welcoming cradle of Genia's arms. The ball was promptly sent back with GST added.
Subtler tactical victories were also being accumulated by Robbie Deans and his men. The first time George North popped up in midfield, as had been signposted, a careful trap lay in wait. Pat McCabe went low and David Pocock pounced over the top. Forget the messages the Welsh are releasing to the public about the breakdown, no doubt there is a parallel process going on: in private they will be instructing the tight-five to control where Pocock ends up in the ruck.
Paradoxically, last Saturday's performance will make the returning Wales coach Warren Gatland's job easier this week. The errors are identifiable and fixable. There is no set-piece meltdown to address, no sudden lack of talent. Phillips will not play that badly twice in seven days. Toby Faletau is out through injury and there will be a new man in the No.8 jersey. The gap in match fitness between the sides - so evident at times last Saturday - will also have been sharply reduced.
They might also take succour from one ploy that opened up the Wallabies once and threatened a few other times. The Welsh are looking to find a gap two or three wide of the ruck with runners coming back on the inside ball to catch any weariness among the Wallabies' big men. In the first half, Benn Robinson and Nathan Sharpe got a little congested around the ruck and could not make the ground to Leigh Halfpenny when he was invited back into the space they had vacated.
Wales know how to ask questions in a manner that looked beyond England in Durban.
Whether they can match the execution levels of the Wallabies will decide the outcome. There are still plenty of serious questions about this Australian team, but when they assemble phases in the manner that led up to McCabe's try, admiration and enjoyment are the only options.
The bookies have Australia at short prices to repeat that dose. Yet the mind keeps drifting back to a John O'Neill quote from 2010. "Has it been harder than I thought it would be … Yeah, too right," O'Neill said. This series might need that third Test.
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