Autumn blues: Wales looking to end 15 years of hurt when they face Australia
The Wallabies' visit offers another opportunity for Wales to heal a running sore – how to launch their autumn series with a victory. We look at their saga of slow starts
The portents for Wales aren’t promising. When they face Australia on Saturday, they will be seeking their first win in the opening match of an autumn Test series for 15 years.
Gethin Jenkins, the fourth most-capped player in history with 134 Test appearances, was making his debut the last time Wales opened their autumn campaign successfully – a 40-3 defeat of Romania in Wrexham in 2002.
Since then, and excluding four World Cup years when no autumn series was played, Wales have failed to win all ten of their opening November Tests.
A creditable draw 11 years ago is the only ray of light amid the gloom caused by the southern hemisphere’s finest, and Warren Gatland’s men will be aiming to end a run of 12 consecutive losses to the Wallabies when they meet at the Millennium Stadium this weekend.
We take a look at the first-up games that got away from Wales in autumns past…
2004: Wales 36 South Africa 38
Mike Ruddock was the Wales coach when the Springboks forged a 23-6 lead after half an hour, with eye-catching tries by Jaco van der Westhuyzen and Joe Van Niekerk.
Schalk Burger’s yellow card turned the tide, Gavin Henson crossing twice, and Boks coach Jake White, confused by the stadium clock, threw on loads of subs thinking time was all but up, only to discover there was still eight minutes remaining.
Dwayne Peel scored Wales’ third try but the visitors held on. “I really put myself under pressure,” White said afterwards.
Jean de Villiers and Percy Montgomery scored the Boks’ other tries, while Stephen Jones kicked 21 points on the day Ryan Jones and Luke Charteris both made their Wales debut.
2005: Wales 3 New Zealand 41
This remains Wales’ record home defeat by the All Blacks. Dan Carter was in his pomp, scoring two tries and landing all his kicks for a 26-point haul.
“He can do anything, pretty much,” said wing Rico Gear, who became the 19th player to score a Test hat-trick for New Zealand.
Wales were missing six of that year’s Lions squad but the nature of the defeat was hard to stomach for the reigning Grand Slam champions, for whom Lee Byrne made his debut.
2006: Wales 29 Australia 29
Ah, this was more like it! Pessimism reigned when skipper Stephen Jones departed injured with Wales trailing 17-6 to a Wallaby side featuring Matt Giteau, Mat Rogers and Stephen Larkham in a new-look 9-10-12 axis.
But Wales rallied, Shane Williams and Martyn Williams dotting down as the tension and excitement mounted.
A solo try by Chris Latham looked to have won it but James Hook, a replacement for Jones, brought the scores level with a 71st-minute penalty.
Cameron Shepherd (two) and Giteau were other try-scorers and Australia coach John Connolly said: “What was most heartening was that defences were breached not because of weak tackling but because they had been outwitted.”
2008: Wales 15 South Africa 20
Adam Jones led Wales out on the occasion of his 50th cap. Warren Gatland had steered Wales to a Grand Slam in his first year in charge, but they’d lost twice to the Boks that summer and this was more of the same.
James Hook again came on for Stephen Jones but Jean de Villiers intercepted his pass to add to Adi Jacobs’s try and give the Boks a 20-3 cushion.
Wales showed some of their famed fighting spirit and Leigh Halfpenny, a 19-year-old debutant, slotted his first Test points – he now has 668 – to go with four Hook penalties. But victory proved elusive.
2009: Wales 12 New Zealand 19
Alun Wyn Jones has managed nine Test tries down the years but he might swap a few of them to change the outcome of one he didn’t score in this match.
With three minutes left, the Ospreys lock latched onto a loose pass in his 22 and galloped towards the distant try-line… only for Zac Guildford to cut him down near the other end.
So ended Welsh hopes of achieving a rare feat – avoiding defeat to the Kiwis. Stephen Jones’s four penalties, two of them late in the game, had set up the tantalising prospect of an upset, but ultimately Andrew Hore’s try and four Dan Carter goals saw the All Blacks home. It’s one of 30 New Zealand wins from 33 clashes against Wales.
2010: Wales 16 Australia 25
There were 20,000 unsold seats for this two-score reverse, in which a young Kurtley Beale was at his sumptuous best. Tries by Man of the Match Beale, David Pocock and Ben Alexander put the game to bed long before replacement Richie Rees grabbed a late consolation to go with Stephen Jones’s goal kicks.
Wales’ one bright spot was a powerful scrum that eked out six penalties, while Sam Warburton’s injury enabled Martyn Williams to come on for his 100th Test cap, four of them earned with the Lions.
Things didn’t improve that autumn as Wales lost to New Zealand and South Africa and were held to a draw by Fiji.
2012: Wales 12 Argentina 26
Who can forget Wales’ 2012 autumn series? At a critical juncture when results would shape the rankings for the upcoming RWC 2015 draw, Wales collapsed in a heap, losing to Argentina, Samoa, New Zealand and Australia to drop outside the world’s top eight.
The Pumas lost two playmakers, Felipe Contepomi and Juan Martin Hernandez, to injury, but tries by Juan Imhoff and Gonzalo Camacho in the third quarter took them well clear.
Halfpenny’s penalty quartet was all Wales had to show from a game in which they made no line breaks and entered Argentina’s 22 on just two occasions. The boos rang loudly at the final whistle and would be heard again that November.
2013: Wales 15 South Africa 24
Dealing with injuries is part of the game, but Wales were dealt a particularly bad hand four years ago. Liam Williams, Jonathan Davies and Adam Jones all retired hurt in the first half and the Boks capitalised with early scores by Jean de Villiers and Bismarck du Plessis.
With ten Lions in the starting XV, Wales were unlikely to roll over and Halfpenny’s boot kept the scoreboard ticking.
However, after a period of uncontested scrums caused by the sin-binning of Gethin Jenkins and Coenie Oosthuizen, South Africa sealed the deal with Fourie du Preez’s try 15 minutes from time. Morne Steyn garnered 16 points.
2014: Wales 28 Australia 33
“We tend to start the first game in the autumn pretty slowly against a team that’s been together for a long time,” said Warren Gatland after this defeat, something you may have gathered.
In truth, Wales had lots to smile about, outscoring the Wallabies four tries to three in an adventurous display. Rhys Webb, Alex Cuthbert and Alun Wyn Jones crossed before half-time and a penalty try on 64 minutes put Wales ahead and within reach of glory.
Enter 18-point Bernard Foley as party-pooper, his drop-goal and penalty averting danger. Israel Folau (two) and Tevita Kuridrani scored tries and Foley got Man of the Match.
2016: Wales 8 Australia 32
And so to last year, probably the most grisly of all these Welsh defeats. Stephen Moore, Reece Hodge and Tevita Kuridrani bagged first-half tries as Wales barely fired a shot – they were lucky to be only 20-3 adrift at the interval.
“We were very disappointed and frustrated by that first-half performance,” said caretaker coach Rob Howley. “The players were pretty distraught at half-time. They never had a foothold in the game.”
It took Wales 28 minutes to have attacking ball in the Wallaby half and territory and possession figures were off the scale for a Tier One clash.
Further tries by Bernard Foley and Dane Haylett-Petty, who spoiled Sam Davies’s debut off the bench by intercepting his pass, completed the rout, with Scott Williams the lone Wales try-scorer.
It was Australia’s biggest away win in the fixture since the days of Lynagh and Campese in the 1991 World Cup and vindication of Michael Cheika’s decision to play Michael Hooper and David Pocock in the same back row.
That was a dark day for Wales – but each year is a new opportunity to wipe the slate clean. The next opportunity is on Saturday, when skipper Alun Wyn Jones will be one of seven Lions in the starting XV. There are three uncapped players on the bench in Dragons prop Leon Brown, and Ospreys duo Sam Cross (flanker) and Owen Watkin (centre). Don’t miss it!
Wales autumn Tests
* Wales v Australia, Sat 11 Nov, 5.15pm
* Wales v Georgia, Sat 18 Nov, 2.30pm
* Wales v New Zealand, Sat 25 Nov, 5.15pm
* Wales v South Africa, Sat 2 Dec, (2.30pm)