Warren Gatland insists there is no mental block when it comes to Australia, but there is still a growing statistical one.
For the 13th time Wales were unable to overcome the green and gold obstacle in their path as they lost 29-21 in the opening match of their autumn series at the Principality Stadium.
The Aussies scored tries through Tatafu Polota-Nau, Adam Coleman, Michael Hooper and Kurtley Beale and they withstood some intense pressure from Wales, whose tries came via Steff Evans and Hallam Amos.
In those 13 games, Gatland’s team have contrived all types of defeats – the last-minute one, the lead squandered, the lead not quite reeled in, heroic defeats, and shambolic ones like last year.
This one had some things to recommend it – a fluency and variety in attack and some determined defending around their own line – but the result was the same.
If it was going to be pigeon-holed then it would probably be labelled under the self-inflicted variety with mistakes when in possession the big difference between the teams.
When the Wallabies got near the danger zone they became calm and precise and they finished with four tries. Wales in the same areas always looked slightly desperate and their two tries were poor reward for all the territory and possession in the second-half.
The other big difference was the kicking game. The Wallabies have a whole range of kicks and kickers. Chipped, flat, arced or spinning, they are all accurate and they always spell anxious moments for the opposition defence.
Wales have Dan Biggar and his cross-kicks and not much else. When Jonathan Davies overshot the runway by about 20 yards with one punt towards the left touchline it sadly summed up the difference between the teams in that facet of the game.
Gatland insisted: “I don’t think anything today suggested there is a mental block when it comes to playing Australia. We were architects of our own downfall.
“No-one is thinking remotely about a mental block. We allowed them opportunities from us being inaccurate. That put us under a lot of pressure.
“Our focus is now is the countdown to the next World Cup. We have got Australia in our group and we’ll go into that group feeling we can’t win it.”
The turning point came after Wales had closed to within four points at 22-16 on the hour mark. Kurtley Beale stripped the ball off Evans – who had shown flashes of real promise in attack and a few lost bearings in defence – before fumbling the ball as he stumbled.
In another universe, where Wales have won 13 on the bounce against Australia, the officials would have spotted the knock-on. But not in this one.
Beale skipped away and scored under the posts and although the TV official was asked to review for a possible high tackle on Evans, the real offence was missed.
Gatland admitted: “I will ask the officials afterwards how they missed the knock-on.
“But sometimes those decisions go against you. It’s one of things and we’re not going to dwell on it.”
He added: “I thought Owen Williams went well. He defended well in that channel. The message was to be patient and when we kept our patience we created some opportunities out wide. There were too many occasions when we tried to force it.
“On the whole, I thought there were some real positives in an attacking perspective.”
Jonathan Davies had to be helped from the field after he picked up an injury in the final seconds of the contest and Gatland added: “It looks like an ankle injury at the moment. He’s being strapped up and on crutches. It doesn’t look brilliant but we’ll know more in the next 24 hours.
“Our whole focus is on planning for the World Cup: exposing some young players and giving them opportunities, developing the game that we can play; different styles.
“We don’t look on that in terms of those defeats, we feel that the nice thing is that we’ve got them in our group and we have the next two years together to prepare for it. We’ll go into that group with a lot of confidence.”
Apart from those forced on him by injury, Gatland suggested there would be changes for next Saturday’s clash with Georgia.
“There will be some younger boys getting a chance. Some players who have been out of the squad a while will get an opportunity,” he said.
“It’s a chance for players to put themselves in contention for the All Blacks game (on Nov. 25). It’s about assessing where this group is in the next 48 hours, seeing how they come back on Monday.”