Wallabies v Wales: Five takeaways as ‘smart’ Joe Schmidt gets one over under pressure Warren Gatland in a tale of two coaches

Colin Newboult
Wallabies head coach Joe Schmidt and Wales boss Warren Gatland.

Wallabies head coach Joe Schmidt and Wales boss Warren Gatland.

Following a 25-16 victory for Australia over Wales at the Allianz Stadium in Sydney on Saturday, here’s our five takeaways from the international clash.

The top line

And so the Joe Schmidt era began in earnest with a very solid win over a struggling Wales side. The new Wallabies head coach watched on as his team emerged with a 25-16 victory in Sydney, where there were enough signs to be encouraged.

They enjoyed an excellent start to the contest, despite Ben Thomas initially giving the tourists the lead, as a brace of Noah Lolesio penalties, allied by Taniela Tupou’s try, opened up a 10-point buffer.

Wales also suffered a setback when Gareth Thomas was sin-binned immediately following the score, but the visitors responded well and gave themselves hope after being awarded a penalty try, resulting in a yellow card for Fraser McReight.

Ben Thomas then levelled matters early in the second period following a second three-pointer and at that point they appeared on top, but the hosts hit back and moved in front via Filipo Daugunu.

Warren Gatland’s men looked to get back into the contest and thought they had mustered a response through another maul score, but that was ruled out for obstruction and it proved costly. Their chances of a first win in eight were duly put to bed when Tom Wright received the ball on halfway and scampered over for a superb try.

Scrum and lineout

Wales lack quality and depth in the front-row at the moment and it showed as Tupou and co. absolutely feasted on their opponents. Gareth Thomas and Archie Griffin started this match, but they struggled as Tupou and the experienced James Slipper gave the Wallabies field position and attacking opportunities, especially in the opening 25 minutes.

It probably didn’t help having a new lock combination in the form of Dafydd Jenkins and Christ Tshiunza. They are exceedingly talented and had some nice moments but there were set-piece issues and it also extended to the lineout. It was quite frankly shambolic early on, with Jeremy Williams, Liam Wright and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto causing havoc, but they did manage to improve matters as the game went on. That enabled them to set up the maul, which was one area they had the better of the Wallabies.

Good and bad from Schmidt’s side

Almost inevitably, it was a mixed performance from the Wallabies in Schmidt’s first match in charge. We’ve already mentioned the scrum and lineout, but there was also some decent structure in attack, as well as physicality with ball in hand.

The former Ireland boss is an incredibly smart coach, one who can create an effective attacking game plan, but he also requires real abrasiveness from his players and that was very much in evidence on Saturday. There was dynamism in the carry and that set up the platform for a number of opportunities.

On the downside, they were profligate at times while their kicking game needs a vast improvement. The half-backs’ inability to keep their foot on the throat allowed Wales to remain in the contest and what could – and perhaps should – have been a 20-point margin of a victory turned into a nervy clash after the break.

Joe Schmidt’s Wallabies tenure gets off to ideal start as Wales’ dreadful run continues

Wales youngsters

Gatland doesn’t really know his best team quite frankly, which means plenty of players are getting an opportunity during this rebuild. Ahead of this clash, Ben Thomas and Josh Hathaway were the headline inclusions, given their lack of experience.

Thomas, who has generally played at centre for his region Cardiff, was starting out of position at fly-half, while Hathaway was a player they wanted to cap quickly after missing out on Immanuel Feyi-Waboso earlier in the year. And to their credit, both looked at home, despite the odd inevitable error that can occur when making the step up.

Elsewhere, Thomas’ half-back partner Ellis Bevan was superb. The 24-year-old made his debut against the Springboks in June, impressing at Twickenham, and he once again produced a fine display, this time in Sydney. His kicking game was outstanding and kept Wales in the game, while his delivery from the base was also sharp.

Pressure mounting on Gatland

They always say never go back and that appears to ring true for Gatland. Although the Welsh boss has not been helped by the issues within the WRU, quite simply no head coach can stay if a team keeps on losing.

That is now eight defeats in a row for the national team, stretching back to the Rugby World Cup quarter-final against Argentina. Five of those came in the Six Nations as they suffered the ignominy of claiming the wooden spoon before they were trounced by a makeshift Springboks side in June.

There is no continuity in selection and, as a result, that has made it difficult for the players to execute the game plan. Granted, Wales’ boss does not currently have the cattle at his disposal, but Gatland can’t seriously be thinking that he is doing a good job at the moment.

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