- by Tzevai Chong
It’s been a sober and solemn few days since the disappointment of Wales’ agonising semi-final defeat to France. I’ll have to admit the red mist of anger lingered for most of the weekend but the result won’t change. And we’ve still got one more game to go – the third place play-off.
Many people might see it as little consolation to finish third, especially after bowing out in such bitter fashion, but for the players of both Australia and Wales it is a chance to gain some redemption and give their fans something to be proud of.
Wales will feel they have a point to prove after the semi-final against France, a game which even the French would probably admit Wales would have won with 15 men. Even despite the disadvantage Wales had their chances – 11 points missed with the boot which would have surely sealed the victory.
The loss of captain Sam Warburton, who is now serving a 3 week ban after his dismissal, and tight-head Adam Jones, who looks unlikely to recover in time, will be big blows for Wales. But they are a ferociously competitive group and the replacements will not go missing when called upon.
The physicality and desire still remains and the management will want the young side to continue to play the kind of rugby which has drawn plaudits from fans, players (past and present) and pundits all over the rugby world.
Whilst Wales have dazzled and defied, Australia have failed to find the spark that many believed was good enough to ignite the World Cup and blow their opponents away. After winning the Tri-Nations tournament for the first time since 2001, they sat alongside the hosts as favourites to hold aloft the trophy a matter of weeks ago.
The pool stage loss to Ireland was a massive blow to the Wallabies and highlighted the importance of openside David Pocock to the side. In the quarter final against South Africa he rightly won the man of the match award for leading a huge defensive effort but even he couldn’t stem the flow of the New Zealand pack on the semi-finals.
Perhaps the biggest problem they face is the poor form of star outside half Quade Cooper. On his day he’s undoubtedly one of the most potent attacking forces in the the game but so far he’s proven to be inconsistent, especially when Australia have been on the back foot. He’s due a big game but will it be against the Welsh?
Australia have looked slightly deflated all through the tournament and I’m not sure if they’ll be able to pick themselves up enough for a third place playoff. Wales, on the other hand, will want to finish on a winning note after what they feel was some injustice in their previous game.
As if any further incentive is needed, there is the small matter of IRB ranking points to be won and lost. An Australian win would see them consolidate their current standing of 3rd while a win for Wales would see them rise from their current position of 6th (I can’t be the only one who is baffled that they’re currently below England can I?) to take over 3rd position and achieve what would be their highest ranking since they were introduced.
For each set of fans a win would ultimately provide some consolation for recent disappointments. Though I don’t doubt the Aussie fans will want their team to finish on a high, their team hasn’t quite reached the highs expected and can have no complaints about their failure to reach the final. They simply weren’t good enough this time round.
I can’t help but feel that a Welsh win would sweeten the bitter taste still residing in the mouths of the 61,000 Welsh fans who packed the Millennium Stadium last weekend along with the countless others who were at Eden Park, watched at home or were in pubs across the country.
As far as I’m concerned, Wales have already achieved more than I expected before the tournament began. For the players though, even third place will be a disappointment and so I can’t see past a Wales win to emulate their counterparts from 24 years ago. I still believe.
- Tzevai Chong – @digitalshades – is the editor and creator of sport blog Dodgy Knees and Dirty Balls, run with help from some of his friends. You can also follow them on Twitter @dodgykneesblog