By Lobsang DS Subirana
Sports Desk, Sep 24 (EFE).- Australia suffered their worst Rugby World Cup defeat Sunday and all but forfeited the chance of qualifying for the tournament’s quarterfinals in France, following a dominant performance from Wales, who booked their place in the knockout stages.
The Wallabies were humbled 40-6 at the OL Stadium in Lyon, in a match coach Eddie Jones’ men never controlled in any aspect, evidencing their immaturity and lack of experience, unaided by a Wales masterclass at fly-half from substitute Gareth Anscombe.
“I’d like to apologize to all the Australia supporters (…) our performance wasn’t up to the standard that is required (…) it’s very disappointing,” Jones said at the post-match press conference, adding that he took responsibility for the defeat.
It was a somber and striking contrast to the bullish interventions the coach is known for, having just days earlier said he had “no doubt we’ll win on Sunday” and dismissed allegations that his team was too inexperienced. But this became clear from the first passage of play in Lyon.
Wales set the pace early on, scoring the match’s first try after three minutes – something Australia never managed in 80. A slick first-phase move off a lineout found captain Jac Morgan, who broke the Wallabies defensive line and fed a flat inside ball to Scrum-half Gareth Davies for the veteran to dive under the posts.
It came so early on, in fact, that a multitude of Welsh fans would not have seen it, after – not for the first time – stadium goers were stranded behind the turnstiles and unable to access the venue.
But they’d need not despair, as there’d be plenty of spectacle to witness throughout a match some thought could have handed Australia a lifeline, when Anscombe had to come on 12 minutes into the match after veteran fly-half Dan Biggar went down injured.
It didn’t. The New Zealand-born substitute put together a commanding performance to show the seasoned test centurion can retire in peace after this tournament, as he scored more than half of Wales’ points on the night in front of the 55,000 fans in the stands.
The game was being played at a frenetic pace, but it was coach Warren Gatland’s men who were winning the key territory battles and proving more clinical in the red zone, as evidenced by a passage of play after 29 minutes.
Australia botched an attacking lineout deep inside Wales’ half and the ball fell to Morgan. The flanker unleashed a powerful clearance kick from a tight angle that trickled over the Wallabies’ 22-meter line and found touch, giving possession back to his team.
Wales executed their throw perfectly and drew a penalty in front of the posts in the following phases, which Anscombe converted to showcase a contrast in opportunism.
Wallaby fly-half Ben Donaldson tried to keep the score close by kicking over the odd infringement, but six points was all he’d rescue once Wales improved their discipline.
Gatland’s side kept sending probing kicks through the wide channels to keep Australia’s outside backs on alert, and though they weren’t finding their target, showed a clear statement of intent – as did winger Louis Rees-Zammit’s attempted finish at the end of the first 40 minutes, which was held up on the line.
Wales had dominated territory toward the end of the first half, and they’d continue in the second, as one of Anscombe’s plays off the boot finally found its reward, this time a midfield chip over the top for Nick Tompkins. The inside center beat his opposite pairing Samu Kerevi and Jordan Petaia to ground the ball and extend the lead to an unassailable 20-points.
Australia kept rueing their indiscipline, as Anscombe kept extending the gap from the tee, before a moment that epitomized the match ensued 10 minutes from time.
At one end, the New Zealander nailed a drop kick from about 30 meters out to rub salt into the wound. At the other, substitute Wallaby fly-half Carter Gordon – who had been benched following his performance in the loss to Fiji last week – missed an easy kick to the corner that went too long.
It showed a contrast of experience and poise from Anscombe, who has almost double the international caps of Gordon and Donaldson put together, as the two have only played nine and 11 times each for their country respectively – and the young 10s’ nerves showed this.
Captain Morgan’s 78th minute try from a maul only added to Australia’s statistically worst ever defeat at the competition and, should it come to points difference, further shrinks their sliver of hope to exit the pool, for which Jones will have plenty to answer.
“I came back to Australia to try to help, at the moment I’m not giving much help, am I?“ said Jones, who’s on his second spell as the team’s coach, adding that it’s not just the Wallabies, but the entire country’s rugby system that needs to improve.