Wales face tough World Cup draw as slide continues
Wales 12 Australia 14: Wales broke camp yesterday, players and coaches leaving a dismal autumn behind them with nine weeks to go before they prepare to defend their Six Nations crown without their head coach and inspiration, Warren Gatland.
One of the New Zealander’s remaining jobs before he concentrates full time on leading the Lions this summer, will be to attend today’s World Cup draw at which his side will be pooled with the likes of Italy and Tonga, less than eight months after completing a second grand slam and not much more than a year after reaching the World Cup semi-finals.
Losses to Argentina and then Samoa, when Gatland was also absent looking at potential candidates for the summer, began the slide which has seen Wales slip down the world pecking order before defeats by the world champions, the All Blacks, and then Australia on Saturday confirmed they are now ranked ninth and could conceivably end up in a pool which contains New Zealand and England.
First though there is the Six Nations and players and coaches were all struggling to take something positive from the autumn, especially after the manner of the defeat by Australia, who have dogged Welsh steps since beating them in the play-off for third place in Auckland last October.
Since then Wales have lost a three-Test summer tour, getting closer to the Wallabies each time, before a try by Kurtley Beale 26 seconds from time snatched away victory at Cardiff on Saturday. The defeat was ranked by the Wales captain, Sam Warburton, as the cruellest of his career.
“It was demoralising because the effort was there from everybody and it felt like today was the day we were definitely going to do it,” said Warburton.
“We kept them out for the whole game and defended reasonably well, and it is probably the hardest defeat I have had to take as a player.”
About the only good news on the Welsh horizon was Leigh Halfpenny left hospital yesterday after a night of tests on the neck he damaged trying to halt the Beale try.
As for the rest of the Wales-based players, they rejoin their regions for some tricky Heineken Cup fixtures before regrouping ahead of the opening Six Nations fixture against Ireland.
“It’s a big couple of months,” admitted the centre Jonathan Davies, fast becoming one of the senior voices in the Welsh squad. “The results are hugely disappointing, but we are the defending champions.
“We have to have some confidence about us. It’s been a difficult couple of weeks, but the second half last week [against New Zealand] and the performance today shows that we are a quality team. We can build on this.”