Serene Wales keep rolling under the radar to sweep sorry Australia aside


Warren Gatland told us before the Rugby World Cup not to underestimate his Wales team. On a calm Sunday evening in Lyon, we saw the perfect manifestation of his vision for this group of players as they picked apart Eddie Jones' Wallabies to win 40-6. The victory means Wales have one foot in the knockouts of the Rugby World Cup, the defeat puts Australia in the airport departures lounge and likely out of the competition in the pool stages for the first time in their proud history.

As the clock ticked into the red, Gatland was seen smiling on the big screen up at his family in the crowd. The sight of that was greeted with a cheer as loud as any heard here in Lyon.

Wales were well-organised, disciplined and ruthless when they had opportunities. They were captained brilliantly by Jac Morgan, who finished the match with 15 tackles (the most out of anyone on the pitch), a 50-22 to his name, an assist and also a late pushover try. Wales have a fine history of remarkable opensides, and you can add him to the list. And all this after they weathered an early injury to talismanic fly-half Dan Biggar but still managed to keep their foot on the Wallabies' throat with replacement Gareth Anscombe steering them home in a match where Wales rarely looked flustered.

Wales are now three from three in the World Cup; the Wallabies have two defeats on the bounce and are going to be in for a brutal post-mortem amid all the distractions and criticism they've worn here in France.

If you wanted a moment to sum up this Wallabies performance, and the World Cup, it was the sight of poor young fly-half Carter Gordon - a second-half replacement having started the previous two matches - kicking a penalty dead in the 75th minute as they tried to save face, 29 points behind on the scoreboard. Gordon was consoled by his teammates, Jones with his head in his hands in the stands. Those in yellow and green started leaving the stadium.

The pre-match noise from the Wallaby camp was dominated by Eddie Jones. The Sydney Morning Herald ran a story Sunday morning saying Jones had held a secret job interview with Japan before the Rugby World Cup started, a story Jones has denied to his bosses at RA. But still it was a sideshow the Wallabies could have done without as they looked to keep their World Cup dreams alive.

The Wallabies headed to Lyon off the back of an opening round, bonus point win over Georgia and their 22-15 defeat to Fiji, a loss which dented their World Cup hopes. Amid all that Jones has been fielding questions over his future, and all without their injured star forwards Taniela Tupou and captain Will Skelton. It's hardly been ideal.

But over at Wales, things have been more serene. Gatland's side were two from two heading to Lyon, after bonus points wins over Fiji and Portugal. And they were full strength for Sunday's match, knowing a win over Australia would all-but secure their spot in the quarterfinals.

While you could just about predict 13 of the 15 starters in the Wales team - you could flip a coin at loose-head and hooker -- the Australia one was far less predictable with Jones axing young fly-half Carter Gordon, and handing Ben Donaldson - who started at fullback in their previous two matches - the keys to No.10.

Unfortunately for the Wallabies, Donaldson had a dismal game, replaced after 60 minutes by the man he replaced at fly-half. He never put his stamp on the match, and bar Australia scrum-half Tate McDermott there were few standout performers.

It was Wales who started the far better of the two teams with Gareth Davies darting over for their first try after just three minutes after he profited from a brilliant break from Morgan and his perfectly-judged offload to scream away under the posts. But the wind was momentarily taken out of their sails just four minutes later as Biggar picked up what looked to be a peck injury tackling Richie Arnold and he'd just play four further minutes before being replaced by Anscombe. The Wallabies rallied, pinning Wales back to 7-6 as they got the nudge in the scrum but Wales kept their foothold in the match and with Anscombe steering the team from fly-half, they kept on pinning Australia back and took a 10-6 lead.

The turning point came in the 26th minute. The Wallabies had a chance to pin the Wales' lead back to a single point but opted for the lineout. Their sturdy setpiece backfired with a mix up in communication seeing them miss any and every one in green and gold and instead finding Morgan at the back of the lineout. He pinged a remarkable kick deep into the Wallabies' 22 and off the resultant 50-22 lineout, Wales won a penalty and went 13-6 up.

From there they stretched away with Anscombe's radar on point and Wales grabbing a second score in the 48th minute as Anscombe's neat kick over the top of the dishevelled Wallabies' defence found Nick Tompkins who dotted down. The Wallabies never rallied and Wales continued piling on the pain with a well-taken Anscombe drop-goal and then a push over try from that man Morgan in the 77th minute.

Credit must go to Anscombe for the way in which he stepped in seamlessly for Biggar as he performed brilliantly at fly-half to finish with a haul of 23 points.

It was a triumphant night for Gatland, but a dismal one for Jones. Whenever Jones' face appeared on the screen, the image was greeted with boos from the 55296 strong crowd inside the Groupama Stadium. Wallabies' mistakes were greeted with gleeful schadenfreude from those in red, and despite the substitutions, Australia never got going.

It was billed as one of the most important matches in Wallabies' modern history by Australia greats Stirling Mortlock and Tim Horan in the build up, but it ended up a monumental disappointment and there'll be some brutal home truths told over the next few days both here in France, and back in Australia. It was always a risk by Jones to pick such a young squad and they may well benefit in the long-term, but the short-term pain and ramifications are going to be brutal.

For Wales though, this continues a World Cup where they are nicely building under the radar. This was a comprehensive victory, an example of their confidence and self-assuredness. Gatland's talked about this lot of players reminding him of the 2011 crop - captained by the brilliant Sam Warburton - who reached the World Cup semifinal and you can see why: the 2023 lot have an outstanding, young openside as skipper, a collective team playing effective rugby and growing confidence.

Wales now have a rest week before facing Georgia in the final match of Pool D, and can plan for the knockouts. For the Wallabies, they must hope for a rugby miracle from elsewhere if they are somehow to gatecrash the knockouts. But in a campaign where they came into it with plenty of noise behind them, they're on the verge of going out with barely firing a shot.