Australia v Wales winners and losers as star outstanding and Gatland facing biggest challenge of career

-Credit: (Image: Huw Evans Picture Agency Ltd)
-Credit: (Image: Huw Evans Picture Agency Ltd)


Wales have fallen outside of the top 10 in World Rugby's rankings for the first time in their history as a result of their 25-16 defeat to Australia in Sydney.

This is now their eighth Test defeat on the bounce, and if they don't succeed in turning things around sharply they could equal, if not beat, their worst-ever run of losses this autumn. Wales were always in the game and if a contentious second-half try wasn't disallowed they may well have come out on top.

But they didn't and Warren Gatland's side really do have their backs against the wall ahead of next Saturday's second Test in Melbourne.

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Winners

Aaron Wainwright

He ended up on the losing side but the Dragons No 8 was nothing short of outstanding. Wainwright carried hard throughout and got Wales out of trouble on a number of occasions when the scrum was going backwards.

The 26-year-old has developed into a top-end Test player and excels in every aspect of the game. He also put in 16 tackles and was Wales' top carrier with eight.

The Dragons No 8 also came extremely close to creating Wales' second try when he sliced through Australia's defence, only for a last- ditch ankle tap denying him the chance of offloading to the supporting player who would have scored. If Wainwright carries on in this fashion there's every chance he will return to Australia next summer with the British & Irish Lions.

Joe Schmidt

Schmidt had only had his players in camp for just over a week but the Wallabies looked like an extremely well-coached side against Wales. Those who have been coached by the New Zealander point to his attention to detail and he had certainly identified Wales' weaknesses.

The Wallabies caused havoc in midfield with the Welsh centre pairing of Mason Grady and Owen Watkin cut to shreds by Australia's starter plays. This may have been his first Test in charge of the Wallabies but this was a significant step in the right direction for a side who less than a year ago had been dumped out of the Rugby World Cup at the pool stages.

The New Zealander is a world-class coach and if anyone can drag Australian rugby out of the gutter it's him.

Archie Griffin

Considering he had only played a handful of senior rugby games up to this point and the fact he was up against the most capped prop in world rugby history, this wasn't a bad first start for Griffin. It wasn't perfect and he did have a rough ride in the scrum, although it did get better as the game wore on, but Griffin will be better for the experience.

The Bath prop was magnificent around the park, putting in a remarkable 26 tackles, the highest from any player on the pitch. The 22-year old also won a crucial turnover and carried well.

Moving forward he will have to improve his scrummaging at this level but he looks like a player who has a big future in the game.

Ben Thomas and Ellis Bevan

This was only his second start at fly-half all season but Thomas acquitted himself well in Sydney. The 25-year-old controlled the game reasonably well, while he finished the game with a 100% goal-kicking record.

Thomas is a very talented footballer but Gatland needs to work out where best to utilise his talents. Wales lacked any sort of creativity in midfield, while Sam Costelow made an impact from the replacements' bench.

Might Gatland consider reinstating Costelow at 10 and moving Thomas to inside centre in order to inject some extra creativity into this Welsh backline? Something needs to change because Wales are creating very little at the moment.

Apart from one spilt high ball Ellis Bevan had another decent game at scrum-half. His service was decent, while his kicking allowed Wales to contest in the air and there was even a cracking 50/22 thrown in for good measure.

Losers

Wales' set-piece and discipline

Wales' set-piece faltered badly in Sydney. Dewi Lake is an outstanding player in most aspects of the game but his throwing in really does need to improve if he is to realise his enormous potential.

There were a number of lineouts that were squandered, which either let Australia off the hook or put Wales under huge pressure. The scrum was a big issue early doors as well, with both James Slipper and Taniela Tupou shoving Wales backwards which meant they were forced to play on the back foot.

Put simply if you don't have a functioning set-piece you are unlikely to win a Test match. What is so frustrating is that when Wales were winning clean ball they looked dangerous, with Australia struggling to cope with their driving lineout.

Discipline also remains a problem for Wales who conceded 11 penalties. They have a habit of giving away soft penalties and as a result yielding field position.

The players have to find a way of fixing this.

Wales' centres

The centre partnership of Watkin and Grady is not functioning as well as Gatland would have hoped. Both players were exploited badly in defence on a number of occasions.

The writing was on the wall early doors when the pair bit in to allow space for Andrew Kellaway to slice Wales open. Later on in the game Filipo Daugunu beat Grady on the outside, and while the Cardiff man did well to get back the Wallabies wing had enough power to slide over the line.

Later on in the game outstanding Wallabies full-back Tom Wright beat Tompkins on the outside to score a try which put the result beyond doubt. But there are also attacking issues, with Wales' midfield unable to create anything tangible with ball in hand despite the visitors enjoying periods of sustained pressure.

Grady has a very high ceiling and Wales need to persevere with him moving forward because he is someone who can make things happen but they have so far failed to find a way of getting him into the game well enough. Gatland may look at powerful Scarlets centre Eddie James in next Saturday's rematch with the Wallabies.

Wales' confidence

Despite what they say to the media, Wales' confidence must be at rock bottom. There were some positive aspects of the game, while a handful of players performed very well, but the fact of the matter is it was yet another defeat for Wales.

Wales have now lost eight Test matches in succession and have dropped out of the top 10 of the World Rugby's rankings for the first time since they were introduced. To make matters worse, if Wales lose their next two Test matches against the Wallabies and Fiji respectively they will equal their run of worst ever Test defeats, with Sir Steve Hansen's side losing 10 on the bounce 21 years ago.

Wales are stuck in a rut and desperately need a victory next weekend. It doesn't look as if this side know how to win Test matches and a victory would do wonders for the confidence of this team.

With every defeat the more pressure will fall onto the shoulders of Warren Gatland and his team. This is undoubtedly the biggest challenge of Gatland's career.