Taxes, rugby and tight clashes between Wales and the Wallabies

Rugby World Cup
by Iain Payten

In life, it’s death and taxes. In Test rugby, it’s Australia and Wales playing out nail-biters and, until last year at least, the Wallabies prevailing.

Since the two teams played each other four World Cups ago in France in 2007, Wales and the Wallabies have duked it out 15 times and the team in the gold corner has won 13 of them, but only by a measly average of 6.8 points.

Eight of those 15 games were decided by fewer than five points, and though Wales finally snapped a 13-game losing streak last year in Cardiff, there are no prizes for guessing where the winning margin sat: that one was 9-6.

World Cups? The Wallabies and Wales have played at all but two, with Australia claiming five wins from six encounters; in pools, finals and two bronze medal games.

"For some reason whenever we play Wales it just brings out the best in you,” Wallabies centre Kurtley Beale said.

"The focus, the concentration and the preparation becomes more important. We understand we have a lot to improve on from last week’s game. It’s adding to the occasion and to the build-up. Everyone is excited for this match and we can’t wait.”

Beale knows a thing or two about those tight victories against Wales, having been the man twisting the knife on more on than one occasion.

In 2012, he scored a 79th minute try to beat them 14-12; in 2015 he pulled offa key turnover when Australia were defending with 13 men at the World Cup, and Beale also scored late with a strip-try in an eight-point win in 2017.

"There's been a long history of close games between the two countries for a long period of time which is great,” Wallabies defence coach Nathan Grey said.

"Those contests are very tight and it just shows the quality of both teams and that you have to take those opportunities when they're presented."

So if styles make fights, both the Wallabies and Wales know their bout on Sunday will be a blow-trading battle that won’t be determined any round before the 12th.

The Wallabies were doing their best to talk down any psychological advantage from their 13-game winning run over Wales, that began in 2009 and ended last year in a dour November clash.

And it was only right they did, given the run is now over.

But moreover, Wales’ win was, at the time, a reflection of the growth of Warren Gatland’s team in recent times.

The Welsh managed to win 14 Tests in a row between March 2018 and 2019, and managed to win the Six Nations and then accrue enough points to be briefly elevated into the world no.1 ranking.

The fact they’d not beaten New Zealand for over 50 years meant the feat was dismissed but it was, if nothing else, it was a just recognition of Wales displaying the same on-field consistency the All Blacks have had for many years.

"They’ve been so consistent over the last couple of Six Nations. They got us last year, so the battles are always epic and they’re always enjoyable to play in. There’s no difference this weekend,” Beale said.

"I feel like their defence has gone up another level and I think over the tournament more teams are focusing on their defence," Beale said. 

"It’s going to be a little harder to crack. It places more importance on holding onto the ball and building pressure that way and hopefully matching them with fitness. It’s always going to go down to the wire, we know that and we’re prepared for that."

Grey also pointed to the Welsh defence as a key asset for them, and the stats back that up. In that unbeaten year, the Welsh conceded only 13 points a Test; down from 21 in the 12 months prior.

And while they’re not noted by anyone as an attacking team, Wales’ point scoring also increased in that unbeaten year. They went from 18 points per Test to 26.

"Obviously they’ve got themselves during the year to no.1 in the world so they’re certainly going to present a lot of different options for us,” Grey said.

"They have a very consistent team that they’ve been picking for a long period of time. The threats are certainly there across the park. A big solid centre pairing with Davies and Hadleigh Parkes, those guys are world class.

"From a perspective of defending multiple phases, Wales certainly pose a significant threat problem compared to Fiji who are very, very good on turnover ball and counter-attack. It's a different prospect," Grey said.

"Different prospect but our system is going to be the same and we want to put pressure on the opposition.”

Prop Sekope Kepu played in most of the Wallabies’ 13-win run over Wales, and he revealed the team had been using the history as a guide to the future.

"From memory it’s always been an arm-wrestle and it’s always down to the wire. Last game they won 9-6. They’re always good tough battles and set-piece comes into it," he said/

"They’re very good over the ball, and they can hold into the ball for long phases. The biggest thing is being patient, either way, both in attack and defence.

"We spoke about it, it is going to be a really tough arm-wrestle."