Relieved to have started an autumn campaign with a win at last, Warren Gatland dismissed the notion that next Saturday’s assignment against Australia represents an opportunity to shake off another hex. The last time Wales beat Australia was 10 years and 13 matches ago. Eight of those defeats came here in the autumn.
“I don’t look at that,” he said. “It is not so much getting a monkey off the back. There have been games when we’ve been leading going into the final minute and conceded a try or a penalty. If you look at the points difference in those games, there’s been nothing in it. We’ve been unlucky at times. It would be nice to get a result next weekend but the more important game is going to be at the World Cup.”
Wales had not opened their autumn with a win since they beat Romania in 2002 but Gatland is not inclined to read too much into that, either. “If we’d come up against Australia today we would have struggled, just with them having come off the Rugby Championship. That’s why we have struggled a little bit over the last 16 years, because the first game of the autumn has tended to be against New Zealand, South Africa or Australia.”
It has been said before to no avail, but if Wales do not beat Australia this time the self-flagellation ought to be severe. Flying high in third place of World Rugby’s rankings they may be but Gatland could not resist reminding us how Australia’s fortunes have plummeted. “From a confidence point of view that will be interesting. Australia have their own pressures back home and need performances and results.”
Ken Owens, Wales’s hooker, took a nasty blow to the head towards the end of the first half, when he collided with Ryan Wilson as the two went for the ball. He did not return until a few minutes into the second half but Gatland gave short shrift to the now-mandatory inquests on social media. “Ken is fine,” he said. “He has taken a knock on the nose, which was a bleed, and we did an HIA [head injury assessment] as a precaution. He passed that and another after the game. Just because you get a knock to the face it doesn’t mean you’re concussed.”
Gregor Townsend, Scotland’s coach, was not discouraged by his team’s performance, citing his side’s lack of precision as the main difference between the teams, Wales taking their two clear chances, Scotland denied twice by the TMO. But for Scotland, as for so many, the game had a broader dimension.
“I looked up a couple of times,” he said, “and Doddie [Weir] was on the big screen. The reaction he got from the crowd was tremendous. We put a huge effort into winning that game, that trophy. We did all we could.”