Wales’ first World Cup victory over Australia since 1987 was a thriller – but what did we learn about the Grand Slam champions?
Rhys Patchell is back
With Wales fly-half Dan Biggar forced off the field with a head injury, substitute No 10 Rhys Patchell was handed the biggest 50 minutes of his professional career. And he came through it admirably.
There have been many who have questioned Patchell’s ability at international level – not least England coach Eddie Jones ahead of their six nations clash at Twickenham in 2018. Indeed, Patchell hasn’t played a huge amount of international rugby since – and last season suffered a series of concussions that affected his confidence.
So, when Australia centre Samu Kerevi went bulldozing into him moments after he’d come on, Welsh fans would have been worried.
Patchell, though, got up and calmly slotted the resulting penalty. Another penalty, a conversion and a drop goal from the Scarlets fly-half put Wales in control; and his tactical kicking was key too, as Wales sustained huge second-half pressure.
Patchell’s third penalty, nine minutes from time, took his tally to 14 points and saw Wales home – and those who’d questioned if he was ready for this World Cup, had their answer.
“I thought Rhys came on and did a fantastic job for us,” Gatland said about Patchell. “His defence has been criticised a lot in the past. We changed a few things in the way he defends.
“I thought his line-speed was excellent and he made a few big tackles for us. He controlled the game pretty well. It was a big match, he came on early and get a win. I think he’ll get a lot of confidence from that.”
Another big bonus for Wales was the performance of Dragons flanker Aaron Wainwright. It takes a lot to keep Ross Moriarty out of any side — and last night we saw why Gatland has such faith in the 22 year-old.
Wainwright turned the ball over after just 15 second to set up Biggar’s opening drop goal. Earlier in the week Gatland said “we want him to get his hands on the ball because I don’t think people realise how explosive and powerful he is.”
People realise now. Wainwright made eight carries for 14 metres – more gain than any other Welsh forward. Wales’ back row is an abundant of riches.
Handling the pressure
Marshalled by Shaun Edwards, we already knew that Wales possess one of the best defences in world rugby – but last night here in Tokyo, we saw their ability to scramble, dig deep and hold out under pressure.
Wales made 183 tackles against Australia’s 83. Time after time in the second half, Wales’ first line of defence was breached; but it was their ability to cover – and then recover – under immense fatigue that was key.
Wales have been in winning positions before against Australia, only for the Wallabies to fight back and win. This time was notably different. Typified by captain Alun-Wyn Jones’ 23 tackles, the Grand Slam champions stood strong.
“I think this is a squad that has grown up in terms of their game management,” said Gatland. “That’s improved significantly. It was good in the autumn last year and particularly in the Six Nations.
“We’d learned a lot from those experiences in terms of guys coming off the bench and we showed some real character.We were under a lot of pressure in that second half. There were some key turnovers that we got towards the end of the game.”