Wales' 32-8 defeat by Australia 'could have been much worse'

Wales v Australia
Wales have lost their last 12 consecutive games against Australia

Listening to coach Rob Howley after Wales' 32-8 capitulation to Australia, it was easy to come to the conclusion it had been a match of firsts.

Not in a good way, like Ireland's extraordinary first-ever win over New Zealand, which was also the All Blacks' first defeat in 2016 and the first time the teams had met in Chicago.

No, for Howley and captain Gethin Jenkins first was a bad thing.

To be exact, the first half and the first contact.

Notoriously slow starters in the autumn, Wales trailed 20-3 at half time and had Australia not blown a couple gilt-edged try-scoring chances things could have been much worse.

"The first half was very, very frustrating and very disappointing," said Howley.

"At one stage their possession was more than 80%. We'd never had a foothold in the game. You could see how effective Australia can be with speed of ball in the contact area and we were unable to influence that area.

"From an attack coach perspective, you always talk about speed of ball from the first contact, but I thought we could have been defensively better.

"I thought we made a couple of wrong reads and we weren't staying square off our line and we weren't coming forward, but that was down to the speed of ball on the inside."

The practical outcome of this was a chance for Australian fly-half and man of the match Bernard Foley to display his full range of attacking weaponry.

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With a supporting cast of willing runners - particularly lock forward Adam Coleman - Foley in turn moved the ball to the outside, fixed the defence with inside passes and when the defence narrowed, planted kicks over the Welsh wingers' heads to his own outside backs.

That Australia managed only three tries by the interval was due to some extent to last-gasp scramble defence but more to the Wallabies' occasional handling lapses.

Gloucester and Wales fly-half James Hook, who commentating for BBC Radio Wales, said Foley hadn't had an armchair ride, "It was more like a sun lounger," he joked.

It's a courtesy Wales cannot afford Nicolas Sanchez when Argentina come to Cardiff on Saturday, 12 November.

The fly-half scored two tries in a personal tally of 29 points as the Pumas beat Japan 54-20 in a clash between Wales' next two opponents.

Howley's options for shoring up the breakdown area will depend on the availability of players absent against the Wallabies.

Sam Warburton played 80 minutes for Cardiff Blues against Treviso on Friday and will be among those reporting for duty with Wales on Monday.

But it seems unlikely number eight Taulupe Faletau will be fit while second row Alun Wyn Jones might return after missing the Australia defeat following the death of his father, Tim.

"Some players played for their regions over the weekend and they'll come back into camp so we'll take stock from there," said Howley.

"We'll possibly pick the strongest team available on the back of a defeat and obviously players who came on did well so it's nice to have those options."

Looking for positives, Howley hopes Wales will live-up to their reputation for improving the longer they are together.

If not, it could a long and uncomfortable autumn for Wales. And that would not be a first.

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