Wales woe in Australia highlights North-South divide
No matter what happens in this week’s third and final Test, Wales’ tour of Australia can only be judged as a failure, writes Marvin France.
Forget all the talk about salvaging pride and finishing on a high in Sydney, this was meant to be the time the Dragons announced themselves as a global force.
This isn’t some bunch of plucky battlers defying the odds to scrape out a solitary result. These are the current Grand Slam champions - Europe’s finest - up against an injury-plagued Wallabies outfit they should be putting away.
Following a superb World Cup campaign and even more impressive Six Nations triumph, the players arrived Down Under desperate to prove themselves in the southern hemisphere.
But, once again, they blew it.
Despite the core group of the side giving themselves almost two weeks to acclimatise, Sam Warburton’s men were stung by a sluggish start in the first Test. And while there was a definite improvement in Saturday’s agonising defeat in Melbourne, they merely gave yet more ammunition to those who claim they lack the mental edge to foot it with the big boys by throwing the game - and series - in the dying moments.
Wales, though, were anything but the lone guilty party in that department over the weekend.
South Africa is arguably the toughest place in the world to tour but I expected more from England against a Springbok outfit who are practically starting again after the tumultuous reign of coach Peter de Villiers and the retirement of several senior statesmen.
The Red Rose were brave in bouncing back from a couple of questionable refereeing decisions, yet whenever the Boks decided to raise the tempo they were always several notches above Stuart Lancaster’s team.
As for Ireland, it’s rare for them to have the All Blacks on the ropes in the last 10 minutes - and even rarer to have them with 14 men. So as gutsy their display was, it’s probably one that will haunt Brian O’Driscoll for the rest of his days.
Indeed, analysing the three games together it’s clear that a lack of composure to close out games is one of the major factors separating the two hemispheres.
However, the difference between Wales and their Six Nations counterparts is that Wales bottled it against a team they should’ve beaten.
Riddled by a debilitating injury toll and with a coach under massive pressure to keep his job, the Wallabies were there for the taking yet the Welsh still managed to come out second best.
They now face the mental challenge of picking themselves up for the dead rubber where, having lost the last six Tests to Australia, victory is paramount for their continued development as they build to the World Cup.
However, Test rugby is also about the here and now and from that standpoint, win or lose on Saturday, the series slip-up certainly seems like a step backwards for Warburton and Co.