An under-strength Wales side showed glimpses of promise but once again came up short against World Cup 2015 finalists Australia on Saturday.
It’s the same old story for Wales fans: another loss to a Southern Hemisphere giant in a home autumn clash. This was the 13th consecutive defeat at the hands of Australia.
But Wales weren’t humiliated in the same fashion as that seen last year; some of the newer faces really showed up well and demonstrated that there is hope for the future.
Wales started brightly in the match and registered the first points with a Leigh Halfpenny penalty going over early on.
Australia hit back quickly however, with a maul leading to a try from hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau in 13 minutes. Wales made it far too easy for their opponents.
Aussie joy didn’t last for too long though as the Principality Stadium was lit up by a fine Welsh attacking move finished off by Scarlet Steff Evans in the left corner.
After Halpenny added the extras from a difficult angle, Wales led 10-7. It was all too brief though as the Wallabies were again gifted a try through lax Welsh play. This time Adam Coleman went over.
Indeed, this was the order of the day for Wales. It was evident that they have been given more licence for enterprise but their play at times was ultimately a little naive.
Failure to clear their lines effectively, persistent handling errors and an inability to break the Australian defence in a manner that brought back memories of that World Cup 2015 group game for Wales.
Australia and Wales exchanged penalty goals before captain Michael Hooper went over for his side’s third try on the stroke of half time; this made it 13-22 at the break.
Wales came out of the blocks after the intermission quite well and registered the first points of the second half with a simple Halfpenny penalty on 52 minutes.
A good Wales move was halted by poor handling from Taulupe Faletau, of all people, before Halfpenny had another chance for three points from inside his own half.
Again, points went begging as the fullback uncharacteristically pushed it wide of the right post. Distance wasn’t a problem, as you’d expect.
The hammer blow for Wales came after 63 minutes when Kurtley Beale, no newcomer to the business of breaking Welsh hearts, scored a freakish try.
Steff Evans, who was looking for the gap, had the ball ripped from his grasp by Beale, who proceeded to run in under the posts totally unopposed. A hint of a knock-on was rubbished by the officials.
Wales needed a boost and duly got own when Hooper was sent to the sin bin for an infringement at the ruck. This prompted frantic Welsh attacking.
Despite some clever moves and good scrum pressure, Wales couldn’t find the key to unlock the Australian defence while Hooper was sat on the sidelines.
As the game came to a close, a low chipped kick from centre Jonathan Davies was finished in brilliant fashion from substitute Hallam Amos – lengthy deliberation from the TMO was needed.
Halfpenny missed the conversion kick which ensured there would be no photo finish – Wales were 8 points behind with the clock in the red.
After a further short period of play following the restart, the ball went dead and the game was over, but there was a worrying twist: Jonathan Davies lay in a heap on the floor.
Gatland admitted that the injury “didn’t look good” in his post-match comments. He also took time to praise Owen Williams, playing as the second playmaker with Dan Biggar.
So it wasn’t to be for Wales but the decent home debuts of Owen Williams and Steff Evans were at least a positive note.
Additionally, while Faletau hardly covered himself in glory with a poor performance he would probably rather forget, other pack members such as Rob Evans and Josh Navidi were pleasing.
Welsh hands just couldn’t keep up with their brains, which were full of good ideas – knock-on after knock-on showed that there is still plenty to be worked upon on the training field.
Credit must also be given to the Wallabies, who were ruthlessly clinical and well-led by the excellent pairing of Will Genia and Bernard Foley.
Gatland hinted post-match that there would be wholesale changes for the Georgia match next Saturday. Georgia come to these shores hoping to prove a point and shouldn’t be underestimated.
The Eastern Europeans eased to a crushing 54-22 home victory over Canada on Saturday. They will be hoping to prove their credentials to the Six Nations authorities against Wales.
We can expect to see the likes of Rhys Patchell and the in-form Rhys Priestland against the Georgians but a change to a completely reserve side could cost Wales dear.
This autumn series may have got off to a losing start for Wales but there is definitely cause for genuine hope as much as there is a raft of things that need to be worked on.