Lowering the Tone
Approaching Cardiff’s Four Elms pub in the gathering gloom, it was difficult to know what to expect from Wales yesterday. If they had been unremittingly awful all year then we’d be emotionally inured against the sort of horror show that unfolded in the second half, but they haven’t, have they?
It’s only a few months since Wayne Pivac’s side was over in South Africa, burying the memory of their Six Nations loss to Italy under a pile of plaudits. They can be tenacious and also efficient, as we saw against Argentina a couple of weeks ago.
As we arrived at the pub, the landlord emerged to look around outside.
‘Match day and it’s dead; a ghost town!’ he complained.
Inside, attendance was sparse. The Elms is reliably rammed for internationals and even allowing for the distressing events in Qatar, it was an uncharacteristically subdued clientele today.
I was there with my pal Tony. Tony is, to put it mildly, a proud Cardiffian and given to forthright expressions of opinion if he sees something he doesn’t like. He does not like the way Wales have been playing this Autumn.
‘How do you think we’ll do, Tone?’ I ask.
‘I wants us to lose,’ he announces, adopting a challenging expression.
‘What do you mean?’
‘They’ll have to sack him then, won’t they?’
Now, personally, I’m constitutionally incapable of wishing a loss on Wales, but it was hard to argue with Tony’s Adamstown logic. He folded his arms as Australia kicked off, then smiled and nodded as Adam Beard knocked on two seconds later.
The commitment in Wales’ first half performance was heartening for those of us who actually wanted to win the game. For the first time in this campaign, there seemed to be some go-forward in contact and players were looking for work.
Rio Dyer, in particular, seemed determined to contribute wherever he could, popping up all over the field and taking his try beautifully.
Jac Morgan again proved himself to be a destructive ball carrier, a ‘one man wrecking machine’ according to Warren Gatland.
Those of us with memories recalled Wayne Pivac dropping him on the basis that he wasn’t a strong enough ball carrier, one of countless puzzling decisions that have been made over the last couple of years.
With Wales 20 points up, the camera caught Pivac looking mightily pleased with proceedings.
‘I wants him gone,’ Tony reiterates, sounding like a Clifton Street version of Don Corleone.
‘Shut up and drink your Diet Coke, they’re playing great,’ I snap.
The next half an hour, of course, it seemed as if Wales had parked their victory at the top of a hill and left the hand brake off. Long before Australia retook the lead there was a palpable inevitability that we were going to blow this and end 2022 in turmoil.
The final quarter of the game is, of course, the period in which the coach can exert direct influence and, repeating last week’s decision, Pivac decided to replace a dominant scrummaging front row.
‘Gone, he needs to be,’ affirms Tony, as the camera returned to a now panicked looking Welsh coaching box.
‘Yep,’ I concede.
For all that the WRU needs reform, and the regions need sorting out, and fans need to support the professional game, none of this can explain a national side actually achieving dominance in a match then throwing it away.
In this godawful weather, and after Cymru’s heartbreaking loss to Iran, Wales had a golden chance today to put a smile on the nation’s face and prove that rugby remains, albeit sporadically, a source of pride.
What we learned was that without Dan Biggar in the setup there is no leadership worth the name for what is obviously a talented group of players.
Emerging into slanting rain, Tony fears he hasn’t made himself clear.
‘They needs to sack him.’
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